With Us, or Agin Us

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." - President George W. Bush
“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” – President George W. Bush
It was one of the most stunning displays in my lifetime. In a period of heightened emotional distress, just 9 days after the 9/11 attacks. An American President stood before Congress and told America that anyone who didn’t think like he did was an ‘enemy of the state’.

At the time, people didn’t see it that way. So many were ready to lash out after the stunning events a few days earlier, that it became a rallying cry of sorts… A call to patriotism to avenge the deaths of so many innocents.

In our fevered state, perhaps we can be excused for missing that we were being presented with a false dilemma. That dissent, in and of itself, is not unpatriotic, and didn’t necessarily mean the dissenters were turning their backs on the events just 9 days before.

But it was powerful language that launched our nation into a decade and a half of war. War in a failed state that never recovered from Soviet occupation in the 1980’s. War in a dictatorship that, while horrific, served as a hedge against Iranian aspirations. War that left untold thousands of our sons and daughters scarred physically and emotionally. War that left two nations in shambles, and with little expertise or experience in putting themselves back together.

The first 8 years of this millennium were devastating for the world, and set in motion a series of events that we, the people of this nation, of this 3rd rock from the sun, are still recovering from.

Its important that we remember this. That no matter how we feel about the past 7 years; the challenges, the personal loss, the pain we’ve endured… they never would have turned out this way without the 8 years before them.

I think about all of this, as the man who was President for those 8 destructive years plans to begin campaigning for his brother, a brother who seeks to continue this legacy.

False Binary

If this primary has reinforced anything in my thinking, it is that we Democrats are not immune from pushing a false binary such as the many George W. Bush was gifted at presenting to the American people.

The entirety of the GOP platform, including all the sideshows, are predicated on this false binary.

It must be one, or the other.

If you speak out against one, you must be for the other.

There is no third, or any of a litany of other options.

You cannot like both. You must choose, and fight to the death for that choice, no matter how strongly you feel one way or the other.

But this is not a Cold War drama. This is not Game of Thrones. This is how we see our world…as an either/or.

Are we really this short sighted?

Simple Complexity

Several years ago (long enough that I don’t even remember when), I wrote something criticizing a Democratic politician. I’m sure I was disappointed with a vote, or something stupid they said, or some other type thing.

Hours, maybe even days later, I was presented with a series of emails and phone calls asking me why I was attacking ‘our side’? Had I changed my mind? Why not train your anger at the people who would never agree with you?

My belief was questioned. My resolve was belittled. My understanding of the ‘situation here in XXX’ was dismissed.

In one stroke, I had been relegated to a place, in the minds of the people who called me, where years of boosterism, donations, and toil were diminished because I dared do the one thing that politicians, as a general statement, can’t bear…question them.

I may not remember what it was about, but I remember how I felt…It was disheartening.

Paris, France. September 14, 2015. Ta-Nehisi Coates is seen near LiËge Metro Station in Paris, on Monday, September 14, 2015 in Paris, France. Antoine Doyen/AP Images for John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Paris, France. September 14, 2015. Ta-Nehisi Coates is seen near LiËge Metro Station in Paris, on Monday, September 14, 2015 in Paris, France. Antoine Doyen/AP Images for John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
So earlier this week, when I saw that Ta-Nehisi Coates was voting for Bernie Sanders despite a quite public disagreement with the Senator on reparations I felt like maybe something would start to change.

It reminded me that we don’t have to follow blindly. That we can have differences and still support each other.

It reminded me that, even in our world of drilling things down to the lowest common denominator, we can admire someone we don’t completely 100 percent agree with. We can support the greater good, even if that good isn’t as great as we’d like it to be, or as we imagine it could be.

Mostly, it reminded me that we are all different, and have different priorities. We see the world in different ways, and visualize different paths to often similar goals. It reminded me that we don’t have to resort to mindless rigidity to show support. That dissent is a tool to change what we don’t like so we can hopefully, get more of what we do like.

Democrats, as we continue through this nominating process, we need to remember what the real goal is. Its not burning down Bernie, or hollowing our Hillary. Both have more similarities than differences.

We must continue to rebuild what was nearly lost in the first 8 years of this century.

We must fight for justice: in our economy, our opportunities, and our courts.

We must stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

We must honor the sacrifice of those who gave themselves in the service of our country, and whose sacrifice has too often been forgotten when the photographers leave.

We must rebuild what has been destroyed or left to decay, from our institutions and infrastructure to our communities to ensure we all can be safe and live and grow freely.

These are just some of the prizes we must keep our eye on as we continue over the coming months.

These are things that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders want to do, each in their own way.

We can personally choose one way as preferable to the other without vilifying or demeaning the other. The truth is, we don’t know which one will work better. We can never know.

But we can pick a side without destroying the other.

In fact, we’re duty bound to do just that. Because the other side will stop at nothing to make sure neither wins in November.

Come the convention, there will be a winner and a loser. Its my hope that in our fever to select our preferred candidate, we don’t destroy the one left to stand up for us in the fall.

It doesn’t have to be ‘With us, or against us”, because Democrats, we’re all the same ‘us’.

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