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