Americans can be united without being unanimous

On cue, a cascade of cliches flooded the airwaves following President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration.

Can Trump unify a deeply divided country? Will his administration be able to transcend partisan politics? Will Americans unite behind their new president?

In a reflexive ritual, journalists and pundits spill these platitudes each time the White House changes tenants, painting 326 million people with the broadest of brushstrokes. National unity is a nebulous concept that’s often invoked but rarely well-defined.

If unity means universal agreement, homogeneity of thought, a distilling of the national conversation into a single monotone voice and the American people marching in lockstep, that’s a goal as unattainable as it is undesirable.

But if the call to come together means a return to the values of tolerance, respect, courtesy and civility — and recognizing that folks can engage in vigorous debate without demonizing the other side — then count us in.

Swept into office after tapping into the frustrations of a working class that’s felt increasingly marginalized, Trump has ardent supporters whose passion is rivaled only by that of his dogged detractors. He’s perhaps more polarizing than any predecessor in recent memory.

As the presidential campaign wore on, we watched folks entrench themselves behind ideological barriers and retreat into echo chambers, liberal safe spaces and conservative cocoons. Facebook users haughtily declared that those voting for whomever they deemed the wrong candidate would be swiftly “defriended.”

Whatever their feelings on Trump’s planned border wall, we call on Americans to tear down the walls they’ve built separating them from fellow citizens who hold opposing views.

Inauguration Day offers Trump a clean slate and an opportunity to lead. We hope he abandons the venom and vitriol directed toward his critics in 140-character bursts. Trump’s Twitter account can be put to better use as a platform for policy and a launchpad for new ideas.

Democratic lawmakers who opposed Trump should strive to find common ground with the Republican president where they can. When the parties differ on policy, however, they need not be bashful in spelling out their objections.

“To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public,” Theodore Roosevelt famously wrote.

Likewise, Trump’s supporters and detractors must engage with each other. The same debates will be playing out on Capitol Hill. That’s how compromise — and democracy — happens.

Leave the name-calling, spite and ad hominem attacks behind. Focus on policies, not personalities. Be bold, but be humble. We can all learn something from those on the opposite side of the aisle.

Americans can disagree without being disagreeable. And at the end of the day, no matter our differences, we’re all on the same team.

That’s our idea of bringing the country together. It’s about mutual respect, not unanimity.

Make our political discourse great again.

The Wilson Times

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