What I learned on my journey through small-town America, the military, tech startups, and elite universities.
Thank you for saying something good about this country and about its citizens. Robert Kagan, in a recent interview with Yascha Mounk, remarked (as I remember it), "That would mean saying something good about America, and that is impossible." The context of the conversation was the international order established after the Second World War, and the US role in creating that order. Almost any context could be chosen and the truth of Kagan's comment would be borne out. It is almost unthinkable, certainly on the "progressive" left, to say anything good about America. So, thanks. The people you mention are the people I know, the people I encounter when I'm out and about, in stores, on public transport, the people who volunteer, who donate money and time. I live in a city half of whose population is black, many poor. There is tension. There is anger. And whatever their races, people in the civic space treat each other with politeness and respect, offering seats on the bus, admiring babies, waving pedestrians across the street, passing a friendly remark. These are Americans, and they deserve to be seen.
The author is refreshingly optimistic. HIs statement about neither party winning middle America is worth repeating because it is middle America, not the right or the left, that can be moved in large enough numbers by discussion, empathy and/or cogent argument. I have found that extremists on the right and left will sometimes stumble upon the truth, but they tend to pick themselves, dust themselves off, and proceed as if nothing had happened.
"This abandonment of classic values was not limited to the MAGA wing of the Republican party. I began to notice a broad contempt for “traditional American values” on the political left as well. It was more subtle and less egregious, but problematic in its own right."
Yeah, right. The scale is backwards. There is no real abandonment of classic values with the Trump platform and Trump supporters. If you disagree, please list them.
However, there is a massive abandonment of classic values with the Democrat party, liberals and leftists in this country. And if you disagree, they will be happy to destroy your reputation, cancel you, ban you and ensure you are consistently less free to oppose them.
As many have said, the optimism here is refreshing and severely needed. The question is, is optimism enough?
"Of course, not everyone will focus on what binds us together. There will always be leaders that delight in divisiveness. So our role as Americans is to reject their offerings."
What if the answer isn't as simple as choosing to "reject their offerings"? For most Americans, the choice between divisiveness and respect is not a simple choice between A and B, but instead more akin to "choosing" to give up drug addiction or alcoholism. Humanity's propensity to subconsciously seek out and revel in tribal identities and extreme negativity is well established, but it is also left out of polarization discussions all too often.
While Ed's optimism is refreshing, I'm worried it's akin to softly urging an alcoholic to quit drinking. For many Americans, the subconscious allure of tribal divisiveness and negativity has become an addiction. This addiction is rooted in evolutionary phenomena that are much more powerful than our rational conscious self. The solution for many then might be closer to a comprehensive rehab program than it is to simply urging respect and restraint.
Ed, thanks for the article. In general, I agree with your writing and it is good that you share your personal experience. It is important that more people share democratic values worldwide. The thing is also that we can have the same values regardless of citizenship and social identities.
At the same time, the thing is that "national values" as "American values" rhetoric, it is a slippery slope and double egged sword. I mean, would you tell a hard-core Trump supporter who participated in the Capital Riot that he or she is not an American? Because by making some values as "American" you end up in nationalist and collectivist behaviours that damage even the people you care about.
The author's optimism in American civil society is welcome, but unfortunately misplaced. The civil society which long made possible the common-sense virtues which he extols- service clubs, churches, families, adult recreational sports leagues, etc.- have been in a state of decay for decades. Bowling Alone, written by Robert Putnam, catalogued this decline more than 2 decades ago, and if civil society was damaged then it is practically comatose now.