“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.”
- Abraham Lincoln
Two stories, microcosms of the fractures Americans are seeing along political lines, broke last week in the city named after our 16th president.
In response, far too many instinctively circled the wagons, defaulting to lines in the sand alongside like-minded individuals. But that kind of tribalism is exactly what fueled these controversies.
We’re all Nebraskans. And we’re all better than perpetuating this division.
The row at a Lincoln coffee shop made international headlines. A transgender employee berated a woman who worked for Nebraska Family Alliance, which has opposed expanded protections to LGBT individuals, after she walked into the business. The barista was fired.
Meanwhile, Sen. Ben Sasse’s days of selling Runzas during Husker football games are on hold. He gave up the gig after being confronted during the season opener by a woman fed up with her perceived inability to have a meaningful discussion with one of her representatives in Congress.
These instances can both be teaching moments, so long as people are willing to listen. Both stories involve common threads of people who felt marginalized and disregarded by the powers that be resorting to extremes to feel heard.
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If we’re unwilling to listen to one another, we have no hope of bridging these gaps.
That requires elected officials to be accessible to their ultimate bosses, the people whom they represent. It also requires people who perceive that they’re being ignored to address opponents in a manner they’d welcome if the tables were turned.
In the end, the outbursts reported last week often drive away people repulsed by the methods.
Instead, recall the immortal words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
He was among the leaders preaching nonviolence against forces more than willing to cause bodily injury by turning nightsticks, fire hoses and dogs on civil rights demonstrators. And dedication to that cause – one that raised Americans’ awareness to the plight faced by blacks in the segregated South – played a vital role in enacting the momentous Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Shouting and swearing over others, the name-calling so prevalent in what passes for today’s political discourse, the toxic us-vs.-them mentality – these don’t advance dialogue. Rather, they further drive a wedge between people despite the inarguable fact so much more unites us rather than divides us.
Nobody said rational people can’t disagree. However, what has being disagreeable produced beyond more division? That’s why civility featured prominently on the Journal Star editorial board’s list of platforms in 2019.
Let us move forward in the manner Lincoln urged in his second inaugural address, given in the waning days of the Civil War. If our divisions in that era could be overcome, so, too, can these.