I have been active in American presidential elections for 55 years, since the days of John F. Kennedy. These have been tumultuous years in America, what with the Cuban missile crisis, the struggle for civil rights, the anti-Vietnam War protests, the struggle for women’s rights, Watergate, the Iran crisis, the Berlin wall, 9/11, the Iraq war, the 2008 meltdown, gay rights, and so on. The face of American society changed radically during those years, mostly for the better. The people of the United States, like any other free society, has always had their conflicting views and opinions, which is a necessary prerequisite for change and social progress. For the most part, however, the two leading political parties always seemed to find common ground, treat each other with respect, and make the necessary compromises for moving the country forward.
This time it is different. As happened during the American Civil War, we have become a house divided. As Abraham Lincoln taught us, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” We live in a hazardous and conflicted world. America, the leader of the free world, is challenged on all sides. American affluence, moral influence, and military might can no longer be taken for granted. With all due respect to our sitting president, a house divided will not make America “great again.” Furthermore, America’s greatness from the very start, to paraphrase the late great Martin Luther King, Jr., has not been determined by the color of people’s skin but by the quality of their character.
What we need now is not to “make America great again,” but to come together as one nation and rediscover those great old American qualities of civility, neighborliness, and, to quote John Kennedy, “not ask what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”
What does that mean?
It means, above all else, that there are many people in America today who have been left behind. On the right, President Trump claims he cares for those people. This remains to be seen. On the left it was Bernie Sanders, who, coming almost out of nowhere, did well in the primaries with a similar message. Those left behind have grown tired of the political establishment, which they no longer feel represents them. They found their voice in Trump, strident and self-contradictory as it may be. Right now the main problem with Trump is that he is a divider rather than a unifier. After 100 days in office, during which time he has created more problems than solutions, instead of taking care of presidential business, he continues to spread divisiveness in rallies which should have ended the day he entered the White House.
Many have hoped that once he became president he would tone down his rhetoric and become presidential. This is not happening, and it is entirely possible it is not going to happen. In that case, America and the world are facing a serious problem. During the past 55 years, Americans have shown they know how to exercise their constitutional rights in times of national crisis and correct the wrongs that emanate from the highest seats of power. Such times are upon us again. As we have done more than once in the past, now, once again, it is time to act. If the seating president cannot do it, than we have to do it – we, the people. Otherwise, things will only get worth, and neither we nor the world can afford it. Let us be one again.
Mordecai Schreiber is the author of the new book, Why People Pray.