One of the most powerful images came the next day, at the congressional baseball game itself. Before the first pitch was thrown, members of both teams—Democrats and Republicans—joined together in the middle of the field to pray. This prayer prompted varied reactions across the nation, as many Americans were shocked to see Republicans and Democrats praying together. The cynical nation wondered, “how long would it last?” They ask because Congress is seen as uncivil.
In a recent mid-June poll, two-thirds of Americans said they believed the tone and level of civility in politics has gotten worse in recent years. When asked “is the tone of the current political debate encouraging violence?” nearly three quarters said ‘yes.’
This is a problem. But instead of asking how long the post-shooting unity would last, the American people should actually ask: How much stronger will it grow?
On any given day at the Capitol, you could wander around and find bipartisan conversations, Bible studies, prayer times, meals, and cooperation. You could also find division, conflict, and accusations. It just depends on where you look.
The camera lens is obviously most often focused on the places of conflict and disagreement. This is no condemnation of the media; it is a recognition that we live in a culture that deeply desires progress and cooperation for the common gain of our nation, but which also promotes the blood sport of politics and conflict. Historically, Americans have alternated between the two passions, but in which direction will they demand their leaders move today?
Unity and respect do not require watered-down policy positions and weakness. They require respect for views that are different, and understanding that the people that disagree do not want to destroy the country. Maybe they just have a different view of the world.
Americans, including many politicians, have started believing the political spin that their own party puts out about people with opposing views. Social media is consumed with people sharing “a good burn” rather than engaging in meaningful dialogue. If the national pendulum is ever going to swing, it will require role models in every community who don’t just call out for respectful opposition, but practice it.
Unity is not easy. Many families have a hard time deciding what to eat for dinner without a fight; that discussion becomes much louder when the disagreement is about deficits, economics, healthcare, national defense, environment, and education. The key is not uniform policy views; it is uniform respect for each other and the process. It is disagreement without personal attack.
Even during this heated disagreement about the future of health care and the Affordable Care Act, Americans can and should continue to display civility and unity. We all want people in the safety net to have good health care, we all want to eliminate fraud and waste, we all want to bring down health-care costs—we just differ on how to get there. This nation is not made up of monsters who hate; it is made up of people who care, but disagree.