Common Ground

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By: 
Michelle Phillips

I am not going to call for unity in the wake of this debacle of a presidential election. It seems too trite, simplistic and cliché to implement in a country that is divided in half.

That is not to say, however, that I don’t think we need to work together to find common ground because I think we fundamentally all want the same things as Americans. We want food, shelter, health care, education, religious freedom, living wages, a means of retirement and peace, just for starters. But it isn’t just Americans that want those things, people the world over wish for the same.

Three years ago, I was in South America for six weeks on vacation. My husband and I went to Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Along the way we met westerners from around the world–France, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand and a bunch of other places that escape me at the moment, but you get the idea. There were two questions that they all asked: Why won’t you do anything about gun control and mass shootings; and How could you elect Donald Trump?

Well, that first one is hard to explain to people from other countries because of the subjectivity of the Second Amendment. Many people, worldwide, are horrified by the sheer number of mass shootings–especially those that involve children–in the US. As an example of how the world views us, we were on a small cruise ship in Galapagos and everyone was going around stating what their country was known for. Of course, the Germans said beer, the Italians said pasta, etc. Then suddenly someone looked at me and said “America–guns and whiskey.” Then they all laughed, but I didn’t.

Even though I have travelled abroad quite a few times and I know the sentiment for Americans is often disdainful or comical, it struck me as sad. Our once great nation had been reduced to a caricature of whiskey-soaked gunslingers with no value for law and order. The real kind, not the kind the president peddles.

The second question as to how we could elect Donald Trump seemed easier to explain. Americans aren’t getting those afore mentioned fundamental things we all desire.

My immediate reaction of course was a disclaimer: I didn’t vote for him. 

To be fair, I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton either, which caused me to be the scapegoat for the election of Donald Trump for my liberal family and friends. This is not creating unity.

I would go on to try to explain the two-party system, Citizens United, corruption by the DNC and several other political fundamentals and landscapes in the United States, all of which culminated into a perfect storm to elect a “Washington outsider.” This is also inaccurate when speaking about Pres. Trump. He was anything but a Washington outsider, and hobnobbed with multiple politicians, mostly Democrats, including the Clintons.

I am not calling for unity because I see little changing until we remove corporate money from politics, and quite frankly, even if someone challenged Citizens United the current US Supreme Court would likely uphold it.

The whole notion of unity has been lost on American politics, and I watched it happen as soon as corporations were deemed “people.” I watched it unfold as I covered Senator Chuck Grassley from Iowa. Grassley made a yearly trip to Anamosa, the town I worked in, and staff often picked me for his weekly call ins. He would stop in our office when he came to town and had also enjoyed a good relationship with the former editor of the newspaper.

For seven years I had been covering Grassley, but in 2010, after the Citizens United ruling, there became a drastic shift in a longtime politician I thought I knew. You see, Grassley had reached across the aisle to get things done many times throughout his political career, but suddenly that stopped. Now he was toeing the party line and maintaining the narrative of division. I remember how disgusted and disappointed I felt, and the next time I saw him I called him out for his doublespeak. He turned away and said nothing, which spoke much louder than any words he might utter. 

When I returned from Colorado in October, there was a stack of mail to go through, including many political mailings. I picked up one which had a picture of Joe Biden and a call for unity on one side and on the other, a photo of Donald Trump waist deep in Hell fire.

Now, I might be old school, but a call for unity is probably not going to come through the depiction of the opposition burning in Hell.

I am generally an optimistic, get things done kind of person, but even I cannot see my way clear to achieving unity when we can’t even stand up and say that we want the same things.

I implore you all to think about this as you celebrate victory or despair in defeat. For we have just become “America,” no longer united states.

Though I do not expect to see unity reached any time soon, I do hope we can find some common ground to move forward as a nation and truly be the United Stated of America again.

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