Starting an Uphill Battle

Last night and still this morning I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. This campaign has left me feeling enormously empty and frustrated and wondering why we insist on going down the path we do. Seeing the vast swath of red states sandwiched in-between the smaller blue areas took my breath away. It’s not that I didn’t see it coming; for God’s sake, this red-blue division has been the easy narrative of the campaign. But when I saw that it was actually here, a done deal, well, then, I was overcome by a terrible sinking feeling. It was final: the idea of red and blue states will rule for the days to come.

In response, all the false, silly and mind-numbing rhetoric of “civility” and “bringing the country together” has started, well, in earnest. I heard some commentators and politicos say last night that what the “next president” must do to repair the breach in the nation is to reach across the aisle to work in a bipartisan fashion and maybe even appoint a couple of cabinet members from the opposing party. Huh? Is that it? Do people who make such suggestions have any sense of where the country really is – and what it will take to move us forward?

It’s clear that the country is going through tremendous churn. I have been documenting this churn in a series of studies since the beginning of the 1990s (and, hopefully, will be publishing a book on this soon). Working our way through these changes will require that we address some key underlying concerns, as opposed to exploiting them, and that we pursue a different path in politics and public life to authentically deal with those concerns.

Unfortunately, it seems that we have made little progress in our political life since 2000, in either party. The states remain divided as they were during the Bush-Gore race. The issues are more gridlocked than ever. The tone of politics is even nastier. Does anyone feel a genuine sense of hope?

We need to craft a different kind of public agenda, one that will increase the potential for progress. We need to gain some small victories that will restore our faith in our collective ability to act and ignite even the smallest sense of possibility. I do not think this agenda will come from either party on the national scene.

Instead, progress must come from within our communities where people, when the conditions are right, can demonstrate that they have the capacity and will to tap their own potential to make a difference and join together to build a common future.

I know that there are people who want to figure this out, rather than be cornered into a red-blue division. All I need to do is to think about those people I have seen and talked with in just the past few weeks alone – in Atlanta, Silicon Valley, Jackson (MS), and Las Vegas. I am more hopeful as I sit here and write this entry en route to Milwaukee and Madison and Lake Geneva in Wisconsin, where I will visit with people who have been working hard to make a difference in their communities.

Those of us who are working to spark fundamental change in politics and public life are fighting an uphill battle. But now that I have caught my breath, I’m ready to get going again.