There was a time when we identified as Americans first, even if we also identified with other subgroups. There has always been something different about America. This difference provided people with a sense of pride and belonging. We understood that we all could participate in realizing the founders' dream of America.
We have watched those feelings slip away as people cling more and more to their differences rather than work to find common ground. But I don’t think this is irreparable. I believe that, together, we can make a difference.
To make progress, we first must recognize where we are. As I write in my book, "Our Broken America: Why Both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening" (Center Street), we need to answer three questions:
- Are we experiencing political polarization?
- If so, is it dangerous to our country?
- Is our nation exceptional and worth saving?
The answer to all three of these questions is a resounding YES!" During my research for the book, I discovered that 55 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of Democrats say they have few or no friends in the other major political party.
Rebuilding the binds that tie us together isn’t something that people on either side of the aisle can do on their own. It is only by having honest conversations with your neighbors, your friends, and the new people you bring into your life that we can begin to really hear each other again.
Most people would agree that our country is experiencing an unprecedented level of political polarization. This country is incredibly diverse in many different ways and our diversity is what makes America so strong. We are economically, geographically, racially, ethnically, and ideologically different from one another and we can either choose to let that diversity strengthen us or we can let it sort us into tiny subgroups that refuse to work together.
What we all have to realize is that the problems America is facing often transcend identity or demographics. I believe that local volunteerism is better than national bureaucracy for this exact reason. It is only when you sit down with people in your community to try to solve a problem that you realize how isolating much our political self-sorting has become.
When we are ranting at each other – separated our own corners, informed by our own news sources, and immersed in our own social media clusters – we cannot listen to each other and therefore we cannot solve anything.
Is political polarization dangerous to our country? My opinion is yes, there is too much polarization. We have all seen the stories about what happens when polarization reaches such a height that it inspires extreme reactions. In my book, I talk about Cesar Sayoc, who sent bombs through the mail to prominent Democrats. I also talk about the many Republican political figures who have had their personal information shared online and experienced death threats and harassment as a result.
These are all symptoms of the same malady. When we are ranting at each other – separated our own corners, informed by our own news sources, and immersed in our own social media clusters – we cannot listen to each other and therefore we cannot solve anything. We have to stop reacting to everything out of our deep-set ideologies and start having real conversations with each other again.
Our nation is exceptional. Our nation is worth saving. This country has always been unique; we were founded as a democracy, with a set of ideals that we sometimes fail to live up to. But every generation has made progress toward reaching that ideal. We have had periods of time when we have moved forward in giant leaps; other periods have resulted in setback. But over our history we have become a better place, a better country, working to ensure that all citizens have an opportunity to fully live out the American dream. Right now, some feel like it’s one of those setback periods, with neighbor turning against neighbor.
But America -- and Americans – are better than the setbacks we encounter. America holds out the same promise to everyone – if we work together, shoulder to shoulder, despite and because of our differences, we can accomplish anything. We have fought many wars as a country, but right now, we are engaged in a battle for our soul. This isn’t a battle we can win with weapons; on the contrary, I want everyone to lay down their weapons. This is a battle we fight by listening to the quiet voices of reason within each of us. So, stop ranting, America, and start listening.