Can a Category 4 hurricane help downgrade our Category 5 political and cultural divisions? At least for a while?
This past Tuesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, we were reminded of the horror our nation experienced and felt. But we also remembered the period of unity that followed, as Americans everywhere tried to find some way to help.
We still recall members of Congress standing side-by-side on the Capitol steps, joining together to sing “God Bless America.” Our national leaders were truly united. Today, we’re afraid, they’d stand in separate groups — Congressional Progressive Caucus here, New Democrat Coalition there. Republican Main Street Partnership on this side, House Freedom Caucus on that side.
We are not comparing Hurricane Florence to 9/11 — and pray we never need to — but as this monster storm bears down on the Carolinas, it would be nice if elected leaders at all levels would try to put the political fighting and one-upmanship aside and embrace the post-9/11 unity. In fact, we all should.
To a certain extent, we will be united by necessity. Although we wish it were happening for a different reason, it’s been refreshing to see the political shoutfests on social media sites ebb, replaced with the flow of messages of concern, offers of help, and friends, neighbors and folks we don’t even know providing tips and important information.
We’ve yet to see a social media post or overhear a conversation while in the grocery store line in which someone said, “I’ve got some important hurricane safety information for my liberal/conservative friends.” When a volunteer firefighter is rescuing someone from a flooded house, there’s going to be no talk from either side about who they plan to vote for this fall or whether or not they support President Trump.
In fact, we’ve found that the political and cultural animus that dominates the national and state discourse is quite diminished at the local level. When we have to live with each other, we tend to figure out how to get along. Far-flung tweeters likely will never meet in person or work together on a common goal, like, say, helping get a generator started or getting a fallen tree out of the road. At the end of the day, that’s the stuff that really matters — not where we stand on a Nike ad.
Interacting face-to-face with someone — even a person with whom we have major disagreements — goes a long way toward restoring the civility and empathy we so quickly discard on social media.
Assuming Florence causes as much devastation in our region as is being predicted, we all have a rough few weeks ahead of us. Some communities will have a rough year ahead.
In addition to the practical work that will need to be done, we know from experience that a disaster and long recovery take a toll on our psyches. So this would be an ideal time for all of us — but especially our leaders — to embrace that post-9/11 unity and goodwill.
Frankly, we wouldn’t expect it to last very long. But even a brief ceasefire in the political and cultural wars would be a welcome — and needed — balm at a time of extraordinary stress. And who knows? It might even catch on.
That doesn’t mean disagreements will end or that we should stop passionately advocating for causes we believe in. But maybe we can start re-learning how to do so in ways that doesn’t tear so much at the fabric of our common life.
If there is a silver lining in this dark storm cloud, let it be that our response to Florence brings out so much good work, so much goodwill, and so much unity among our leaders and among each other, that we refuse to let the divisions return.