Here’s Why I’ve No Intention of Discussing the Elephant in Our National Room

I am a bit of a political junkie, closely following daily developments about national events—except when I force myself to take mental health breaks and turn to Frank Sinatra’s soothing voice on my car radio and to mindless diversions on my TV.

And I’m not alone in my periodic escapism: I’ve learned that therapists are increasingly advocating such breaks for their clients and that some mental health professionals are, in fact, keeping their own news consumption to a minimum, feeling that they are otherwise hindered in caring for their overwhelmed patients. 

This week, The New York Times carried an article titled “In a Divided Era, Political Anger Is All Each Side Has in Common.” The title is self-explanatory; the article goes on to discuss relationships among friends, spouses, and siblings that have been severely damaged or even broken because of vehement feelings either for or against President Trump. As a follow-up, the Times is asking readers to describe their personal situations and relate any lessons they may have learned.

I think the Times was woefully shortsighted in focusing on these sad divisions because: a) this is not a new story; and b) it fails to take into account the quest for commonality that I believe was evidenced in the APA poll on anxiety and the success of the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which I discussed in my previous post: “Mister Rogers: Where Are You When We Need You?”

Perhaps the Times’ summary of its readers’ reports about what they’ve learned from their tattered relationships will contain some lessons that are broadly applicable. If so, I hope the Times will follow up with stories that demonstrate Americans’ longing to move beyond this internecine warfare.

Despite my own strong political views, I have not, from the outset, intended this blog to be strictly political. So much stuff is readily available that I see no need to repeat what’s often appearing elsewhere—unless I (or we) can somehow come up with a different perspective.

And that’s what I’m hoping you’ll help me with now.

Can our discussion move us forward—with a focus on looking for new (emphasis on the new) ideas and/or examples of how we, as a nation, get through our current morass with our democracy intact? I am eager to hear your thoughts in this regard.

I think it’s worth repeating writer Todd VanDerWerff’s words in Vox, which I quoted in the Mister Rogers post: “Rogers understood that on some level all any of us wants is to know that we’re okay. And because he was so good at seeming to believe everybody was, indeed, okay, he could connect with our need for empathy and hope.”

I believe those political leaders aspiring to office—on any level—who can convincingly convey that message will be welcomed by Americans of varying political views. Do you agree? Do you see such leaders on the horizon—either the “usual suspects” or those outside of the Beltway and possibly not even talked about much? If so, please share your thoughts with us, including what qualities you think this person would bring to healing our national divide.  Please don’t confine your thinking solely to potential presidential candidates.

In addition, exciting things seem to be happening politically outside of Washington. My thoughts have once again turned to Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person to become a state legislator, who won her seat in the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017 by firing up her potential constituents with a promise to improve the traffic congestion on Route 28 in Fairfax County. (!) This year, there are many interesting people running for local and state offices throughout the country.

If you have stories to tell about wellsprings of democracy and compelling candidates in your areas, please do forward them. And please also tell me how you feel about my position of keeping the elephant in our national room off limits in this forum.

Annie

18 thoughts on “Here’s Why I’ve No Intention of Discussing the Elephant in Our National Room

  1. It’s hard to imagine what mr. rogers would think about the image of the rampaging elephant in the room trampling on the furniture and despoiling aunt Margaret’s treasured Persian rugs and delicate Ming vases. For those of us who have voted in more than 15 presidential elections, it’s hard to maintain a positive outlook in the face of the current desecration of our American democracy. I listen to you, I do, and try to cross the political divide with soft and conciliatory words, but take no comfort while the country’s legislative body sits complacently and complicity silent.. So sadly I say that it’s all up to our grand children – the young millennials and the generation Zs – to put our country back on track.

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    1. Nancy,
      I, too, am hopeful about the young millennials and the generation Zs, but I don’t think we should wait around for them. One of the reasons I felt the need to write this post is that we’re all so tired at this point, and I don’t want our discussions here to add to the fatigue that could immobilize people from taking actions that would give them better control over their lives. It isn’t always easy to remain optimistic, but I firmly believe that “We the People” will eventually prevail. There are signs to that effect in many places, though they often get lost in the cacophony that has replaced civil dialogue in both the halls of Congress and too many American homes.

      Annie

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Annie,
    It’s not easy to be optimistic considering our present group of elected officials. If they’re not crooks or predators they seem more interested in gaining power for themselves or their party. There must be some who realize they were elected to serve us and be our representatives?
    Thanks,Annie, for your thoughtful blogs and your optimism.
    Don

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    1. Don,
      Thanks for your kind words. I agree that it’s hard to find elected officials who are acting for the greater good. I’ve been reading in the eulogies to the admittedly flawed but basically honorable John McCain about the tortuous efforts that he and Russ Feingold went through to pass the 2002 campaign finance legislation bearing their names–which was ultimately nullified by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. McCain’s role in that legislative achievement was apparently motivated in part by his shame in his involvement in the Keating Five corruption scandal. His willingness to admit when he was wrong, apologize, and take corrective action is so rare everywhere, but especially among politicians. I am hoping that some other elected officials may become self-reflective following his death and be moved to emulate his bipartisan efforts.
      Annie

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      1. Annie,
        I think your words ‘basically honorable’ would be the key in what we’d hope (expect) to have from our reps.
        Don

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  3. In the 1990’s I earned the title of “the resident cynic” that was given to me by the greatest principal that I ever worked for when I was a high school department chairman. Unfortunately, for the most part, my view of our political system has not changed my cynicism. Our political system rarely allows for a dynamic leader; one that has the capacity to think outside of the box.
    I see a man that might have the capacity to do just that. Mitch Landrieu, the former Mayor of New Orleans has demonstrated the courage to deal with controversy after giving one of the great speeches in my lifetime. His speech that explained and defended the taking down of the Confederate Monuments in his town will be read for years to come.
    Below are some of the qualities that would make him a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination:
    1) He’s the right age at 58
    2) He has the courage of his convictions as evidenced by the speech referenced above.
    3) He has executive experience (Mayor of a major city, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors)
    4) Not a Washington insider
    5) He’s a southerner than can appeal to minorities and working class whites
    6) He has a telegenic presence
    7) He has the tacit approval of Donna Brazile and James Carville, two Washington insiders.

    In summary, Mitch Landrieu gives me some hope for the future. It remains to be seen whether he wants to take the plunge. At this point he would have to climb over some of the more well known potential candidates, but I hope that the Democratic hierarchy has learned its lesson about only looking at the bright shining object.

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    1. Steve,

      This is great: you’ve made a strong case for a potential candidate who’s probably not on a lot of people’s radar screens–although I’ve seen him interviewed a few times recently. If he really can appeal to both minorities and working class whites, that would be a huge benefit–in terms of both his electability and his capacity to promote the kind of healing that our country needs so desperately right now. And I agree that his May 31, 2017 speech is wonderful and important and brave; I went back to listen again, and I encourage others to do the same. It’s available at http://www.washingtonpost.com, “Full speech: Mitch Landrieu addresses removal of Confederate statues.”

      Anyone else care to suggest someone who’s not among the customary list? Are there any John Hickenlooper fans among us? Other suggestions? There’s lots of talent out there, and I agree with those pundits who say we really have no idea how the 2020 field will take shape (and that’s true for both parties).

      Annie

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  4. The one thing that might give me hope is strong Democratic ticket in the forthcoming Presidential election,
    And I think John Hickenlooper might be the one to head the ticket . There are a lot of positive factors in his favor,
    He is presently the governor of Colorado and well loved by his state- young and old. He speaks judiciously and intelligently which would be a nice change from our present situation. He is young -66- but not too young.
    I think he espouses the kind of Democratic values which I agree with.

    Our only hope for this country is to try to elect people to Congress and to the Presidency who are more interested in serving the country, their constituents and the constitution than adhering to s particular party line. Is it my wish and
    I hope it comes true, but I am not holding my breath.

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    1. soobloo,

      I agree with you that John Hickenlooper has many positive qualities that could make him a valuable addition to the pool of 2020 candidates–although he’s really barely on the radar at this point. (A July Washington Post article didn’t mention him as one of the top 15, but did cite him as “worth watching.” As a pragmatic Democrat from far outside the Beltway–who managed to pass gun safety legislation in a state where that wasn’t easy–he might be a “sleeper” candidate. He still has a net positive approval rating even though he’s nearing the end of his term. We’ll know more about whether he’s serious about running fairly soon, I think. I also read that he’s considering a run against Cory Gardner for the Senate. (See Mark Harden, The Gazette, “Hickenlooper for president? Colorado pollster weighs in,” Aug. 7, 2018.)

      Annie

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  5. Hello and thank you for another thoughtful post. Finding commonality is surely one of the thorniest issues of our times (among so many: climate change, terrorism, the rise of AI, the decline of privacy, the loss of international cooperation, gun violence . . . ). Notice, please, that I didn’t mention the elephant in the room but the White House could help these matters move toward positive outcomes, if only they were inclined. But as to commonality, did we think it would be easy? It’s hard enough within a single family unit to find common ground let alone nationally or even globally. So where does this leave us? Bill Gates has mentioned (mentioned only, not to overstate it!) a surprising (at least to me) direction: mindfulness and meditation. Interesting, isn’t it? For me, I wonder about the artists: can they lead the way? We citizens have a way of absorbing their messages, whatever genre, more easily than say political rhetoric. A powerful work of art can rally and move the masses, so perhaps something catalyzing will appear from this quadrant. As for politics, I’d love to see a bipartisan ticket and apparently John McCain considered it (first with John Kerry and then with Joe Lieberman . . . before he chose Sarah Palin). That would rock our socks, wouldn’t it? I’ll keep thinking, Annie. Thanks for asking good questions. That, at least, is a superlative beginning to moving our hearts and minds.

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    1. Denise,

      I’m so appreciative of your taking the time to express your thoughtful views. Lots of interesting ideas here. We can think of works of art–and certainly literature–that have had a huge impact. As for politics, I fear we are much too partisan at this point for a bipartisan ticket to even be considered–and if it were, what would be the shared ideas around which the candidates would coalesce? Perhaps the challenges would have more to do with packaging and phraseology to bridge gaps that aren’t really as wide as we imagine. And you mentioned Bill Gates and mindfulness: Watch this space!

      Like

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