Moving from Labels to No Labels in 2017
President Elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama meet at the White House. Photo: Pete Souza
Pedestrian Pete is excited about the new year. Pete clearly understands that this is a strange time of uncertainty and troubles around the world. We will no longer have the steady hand of President Obama to guide our ship of state, and the evolving Trump administration at this point promises more uncertainty. But most of us recognize that the “gridlocked” national government in Washington is broken, and a fix is in order. So let’s be hopeful about a departure from the status quo and that our solid American values of generosity, hard work, and fairness to all, will prevail….somehow!
After the 2010 mid-term Republican sweep of the Senate and the House, bitter partisanship and divisiveness overcame Washington. People began to mistrust our government and nationally elected leaders. So Pete joined this new movement call No Labels. Like many frustrated Americans, we wondered why men and women of good will can’t agree on what’s good for the nation, like expanded Medicare, or improving our infrastructure, or pre-school for kids, or more mass transit? Why not give this thing a chance?
No Labels grew out of a widespread frustration with divisive, partisan politics. Over 1,200 well-meaning, mostly moderate and clearly bi-partisan Democrats, Republicans and Independent leaders came together at a “congress” in New York to express the national need to rid our public dialogue of the debilitating curse of labels. Mayor Bloomberg and columnist David Brooks served as keynote speakers.
What are some of those awful labels? Pete’s list: the Freedom Caucus, the Tea Party, the Alt Right, tax-and-spend Liberals, the Gays, and so on. Each of these labels have a powerful irrational meaning, which clouds discussion.
It’s almost as bad today as when I was a kid and bigots called those who were different Polacks, Wops, Spics, Krauts, Japs, Chinks, Forgs, N-word, and worse. In those days, the cause was fear, a fear to the “others,” a psychological walling in, a retreat from civility. This cauldron of festering fear seems to have split the American electorate into hostile tribes, engaged in a zero-sum game of winners and losers. We never want to return to those days, because we are all Americans, a diverse and blended society. If we lose our respect for others, for those different from ourselves, we lose our humanity. This is a lesson we will be forced to learn the hard way over the next 3 to 4 years, as we go through this sorting out, this cleansing of the American soul. We must never lose our collective hope for a national healing and coming together.
So what does all of this add up to?
Americans are challenged as never before to put their selfish and partisan interests aside in favor of the greater good. “To turn the other cheek,” as Christians say.
We are challenged to embrace a new kind of civility, as Lincoln challenged us at Gettysburg, to inspire a new birth of freedom and compassion for our fellow Americans, regardless of class, income, or ethnic origin.
Here and around the world, there appears to be an erosion of societal norms, of acceptable civil behavior; we are losing our morals compass. The sustaining rule of law is evaporating in many places, as radical behavior is cheered by growing mob behavior.
So as we celebrate, Pedestrian Pete’s New Year’s wish for all of human kind, especially our youngest generation, the Millennials, is a return to a national civility, a reaffirmation of core American values, and a return of hope and belief in the American Dream.