Throughout this election, throughout all the senseless infighting and finger-pointing, throughout the deepening polarization of our country, one thing has become abundantly clear: we have to heal our wounds and reunite as a nation.
How are we supposed to lead a free world, protect Americans, and promote strength and growth when we cannot seem to work together in achieving these goals? How are we supposed to teach our children and our next generations to be civil, respectful, and mature when we as adults and leaders are not practicing what we preach?
The lack of leadership displayed by all levels of our government over the past daunting months is unacceptable and unpatriotic. The United States is in turmoil and families are being torn apart by civil discord. We are constantly waiting for the other political shoe to drop, while feeling like it is repeatedly stomping on us. We cannot ignore the blatant problems gravely affecting our country any longer. Right here, right now, I proclaim that enough is enough. We must find common ground to stand on before we lose all sense of civility and justice.
Make no mistake about it, we will have a lot of serious work ahead of us to bring about healing and reconciliation after this election, starting with the tone and words we use. Civility within our disagreements and debates has been pushed far aside. Conducting ourselves in a reverent manner should not be viewed as weak or dispassionate. Of course, we should be zealous and show excitement when we are discussing issues important to our nation and its people, but we must remain civil in the midst of hard-fought, high-stakes political conflicts. This is best way to win debates and advance sound ideas, and frankly, it’s essential to the health of a free society.
If we reduce our arguments to insulting the character of our opponents and adversaries, then we lose all-around — lose debates, lose trust, and lose respect. Making spiteful comments and flying off the handle does not advance our arguments or build confidence in our ability to steer this country in the right direction. Proposing thoughtful solutions through convincing, civil messages is what opens skeptical eyes to new and different opinions. We gain trust by maintaining civility, which ultimately leads to successful leadership.
I look to President Ronald Reagan when I think of a prime example of civility and leadership. His sense of humility, trust in the goodness of people, and unwavering faith kept him grounded and focused on what it truly means to serve The People. He did not achieve his gracious reputation by being hateful and selfish. He achieved it by being respectful and responsive. In the words of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “Ronald Reagan won the Cold War without firing a shot.” President Reagan’s civility and passion for effective governance is proof we don’t have to lose our dignity to win respect.
We also have to begin listening to and respecting each other without sacrificing our principles and values. We need to rise above the unfortunate fact that words like “compromise” and “agreement” have been wrongly associated with a sense of surrendering our convictions. Who says we can’t stand firm in our convictions while working within and across our parties to achieve an ultimate goal that is best for everyone? I refuse to believe this cannot be done. We owe it to the hardworking people we represent to do our job effectively, and that includes working with one another while still upholding our morals and political beliefs.
We certainly are not the first Americans to live in such divided and anxious times, nor the first in which our national rhetoric has grown so malevolent. However, unless we as a nation get our act together before matters become worse, we could be the last Americans to have such an opportunity for freedom.
When President Abraham Lincoln first took office, he implored that “we must not be enemies,” and “[t]hough passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” But President Lincoln pleaded in vain. The bonds of affection soon broke, and a terrible calamity followed with the Civil War. Although America today may not be headed for a civil war, our ability to find common ground and act civilly is waning by the day. If we keep heading in this direction, it will not end well and civil unrest may be, unfortunately, the mood of the future.
Now, more than ever, every one of us must put our priorities in order for the good and strength of our future. Our differences will always survive election battles and trying times, but for the sake of the Republic, we need to focus on our commonalities. This starts with reuniting as a nation so we can restore leadership, patriotism and civility.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District.