As my husband and I leave North Carolina — we’re moving closer to grandchildren — I must say good-bye to the column I’ve been writing for the Point/Counterpoint series.
I took pleasure in laboring over the words to explain the Democratic perspective to The Pilot’s readers. John Rowerdink, the Republican “voice,” and I disagreed on just about everything political, but I respected him and knew that we both cared deeply about this country, this state and this beautiful county.
As I depart from this labor of love, I share some final thoughts on the current state of our national discourse. My first thought is to say there isn’t much — discourse, that is. Or at least not much civil discourse, particularly around the arena of politics.
I worked for decades in a variety of political environments. I was chief of staff to an elected official; I also held an elected position; I ran and/or worked on campaigns for those already in office and for those wanting to be elected; and I raised money so that people could run for political office. If it was political in nature I most likely did it.
Yet in all those years I never experienced the ugliness, hostility and hatefulness that I have witnessed in politics today. As a life-long Democrat, I often found myself on the other side of an issue from my Republican colleagues. But never was I vilified for simply being a Democrat. My ideas and proposals were argued over and often found wanting by those on the other side of the aisle, but my personal integrity, my moral compass, my commitment to public service were never once questioned.
Until we bring civility and respect back into our political dialogue — from the coffee shop group trash talking the “other side” to our highest elected officials smearing their colleagues — we cannot advance a shared sense of community or country. We will be locked into an endless cycle of blame and an “us vs. them” mentality.
It was once possible to talk respectfully to someone whose politics you disagreed with. Heck, we all have friends that were or are of the other party! Now we have to avoid discussing politics or we might risk blowing up decades-long friendships.
I could tell you why I think this situation arose, but that is not the point. The point is that no matter how this state of affairs came to be, we as Americans can decide for ourselves how we will act toward each other. We can reject the notion that we must engage in “us vs. them” thinking and acting. Instead, we can choose to think and act as “we.”
I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time lately thinking about diversity. Diversity is not some politically correct idea, but a critical concept, a necessary ingredient to our future. Non-diverse species and non-diverse populations struggle to survive. The evidence is all around us. Ecosystems without diversity are susceptible to diseases and environmental factors that can wipe them out. Without the moderating influence of other species impervious to these pressures, entire animal and human populations will die.
Farmers understand they must cross-breed to keep their plants and animals healthy. Our bodies demand a variety of foods to maintain optimum well-being. And diversity of human beings has been instrumental to this country’s successful long-term growth.
In politics, diversity is also critical. It is only when many different voices are heard that good legislation is crafted. Bad laws come out of echo chambers.
I believe there are some other important areas in which this country can improve its political environment. We can give voting the respect it deserves. We can declare voting day a holiday and give people time to study their ballot. They can stand in line if need be in order to cast their vote. They needn’t forgo voting to return to work because they ran out of time.
We must make it easier to vote. We must demand that our legislators quit drawing districts to favor their own party. We must have districts with level playing fields where our candidates can run and win on their own merits, not through manipulation.
I could go on, but I’m running out of space! Thank you, John Nagy and Steve Bouser, for this remarkable opportunity. Thanks also to Jessica Wells for agreeing to succeed me. And thank you, Moore County Pilot readers … you’re the reason I wrote!
Darlene Dunham, past president of the Moore County Democratic Women, is soon to be a former Southern Pines resident.