This Presidents’ Day presents a particular challenge to families and communities around the nation. Our 45th president attracts passionate responses all along the political spectrum. Few people have a neutral or benign attitude toward President Trump or his leadership style. He seems to revel in attention of all sorts and has built his professional career on the theory that any publicity is good publicity. Statements made during his campaign—whether meant to be taken seriously or not—now have a different gravitas as he occupies the oval office and his words and actions reverberate around the world.
All of this is causing many Americans to reflect anew on the role and meaning of the Presidency and the functioning of our democracy. We have watched as our governing bodies have descended over the past two decades into an ever deepening polarized and divisive set of relationships and many of us have neglected our own responsibilities as citizens to actively engage in the work of our towns, cities, states and nation. But as Tip O’Neill, the legendary speaker of the house once remarked, “All politics is local.” I would suggest that political action even starts one step closer and say, “All politics is familial.” We first learn our politics at home from the example of our families, the people who are our first and most important teachers.
I have heard from so many friends with examples in my own family that this election has created deep rifts of difference and division. The gaps are so profound and our judgment, anger and resentment around them are so fixed that we cannot broach them for fear that we will cause irreparable harm to our most important and often most vulnerable relationships. If we cannot teach our children in our own families how to have these conversations among the people we most care about, what possible hope is there for our country?
This Presidents’ Day, I would like to suggest that we begin to find ways to talk about this president, the differences that were part of the culture that resulted in his election and learn how to listen to those in our own family whose views may differ radically from our own. If we can do this at our tables for our children, we may begin to shape a new political reality where people who care about the same future, but see the present differently can begin to come up with solutions together.
This past year, the ICJS sponsored a series of conversations called “Imagining Justice for Baltimore.” Participants who were strangers to one another at the outset came from all parts of Baltimore. The initial group of participants established a series of guidelines for sharing the ways in which their various faith traditions—often based on deeply held convictions—factored into the conversation. When a second group of participants was introduced to the principles, many observed, “I could really use these with my family or at my business or with my non-profit group.” Please consider using these guidelines when thinking about how to have conversations about the range of political convictions that may exist in your family or special community. If we can learn to be respectful and caring here about our differences perhaps we can extend that care and respect in ever larger circles to the polities that shape our policies and create a brighter, more vibrant political future for our children and grandchildren.