The Day After: Presidential Debate #1

As expected the pundits have quickly declared the winner from last night’s debate. But before they get too lost in their own conversation, there’s the conversation both candidates sorely missed about people’s deep concerns – about community, our obligation to others, restoring people’s belief in themselves and in one another. These were seldom – if ever – mentioned. Let’s just take the topic of ‘community.’ Both candidates, in their own ways, are fond of talking about innovation and bottom-up change. But where then does community fit in?

Indeed, in my new book The Work of Hope, people clearly say that we must put the country on a new path forward, and that this will require people coming together to get things done to restore their belief that it is even possible. Much of what people call for are actions that start locally – in their community – where they can see, shape, and drive them – and then build upon them. This is about people doing things together. These actions will be the seedbeds for growing the confidence, trust, and belief that we lack today.

Think back over last night’s debate: there was nary a word spoken about ‘community’ – except the four times there were references to community colleges and community banks.  But ‘community’ itself – zip. And yet for much of the night the candidates discussed the role of government, government programs, government funding, and government deficits.

But can government programs alone fix our communities’ education ills? Just what is people’s obligation to one another beyond simply paying taxes? If entitlements are not the answer to every social ill, then where does community fit in?

And how could our collective work in a community actually help us get out the hole we’re in, and restore people’s belief in themselves and in one another?

There may be some who would say a discussion of community was not relevant last night. But I see it otherwise. To miss this point is to miss what Americans are yearning for today – and what they believe must happen in order for us, together, to move ahead.

If the candidates truly want to speak to people’s aspirations and concerns, then they better start talking about community and what it takes.