In 1992, President George H. W. Bush was seeking reelection. The economy had been stagnant and showed little promise of a sustained recovery. Yet, President Bush kept telling the American people that the economy was fine.

Now, the problem was that the average American could see that the economy was not fine. Virtually every American knew someone who had lost their job, or of a plant that was being shut down, or heard the news about just how bad things were. When confronted with the difference between what folks heard and what folks saw, they went with what they knew from their own life experiences.

Against that backdrop, President Bill Clinton rode a simple campaign strategy (“it’s the economy stupid”) all the way to the White House. It seems most Americans are not as stupid as most political consultants and media prognosticators think they are.

In the wake of the tragedies in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas, President Barack Obama reported to the American people that the country is not as divided as many people make it out to be and that good things will come from the tragedy. Yet, with each passing tragedy over the last seven years, it has become increasingly clear the strain between race relations and police departments has steadily worsened, not gotten better, culminating with the “Ferguson effect” and punctuated by the Dallas tragedy.

Politics of division, especially when those divisions are based on demographic distinctions, come with a price — a very high price. Indeed, in his farewell address, President George Washington warned it was the greatest single threat to the Republic. Divided countries turn on themselves and eventually they fall.

Contrary to the beliefs of some, it is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. There is plenty of blame to share for singling out and targeting groups based on demographic factors for political gain. Indeed, the very essence of gerrymandering in America today now does almost exactly that. But, this division into the lowest common denominators dominates every aspect of politics.

Many hoped the election of the first African-American president in U.S. history would have created the atmosphere for healing and coming together — at least beyond the issue of race. But no one actually believes race relations are better today than when President Obama first took office. Instead, most Americans would agree race relations have gotten worse.

Segregating African-Americans into a reliable voting group that needed to be periodically motivated by hitting emotional hot buttons, or by fanning the flames when racially charged situations occurred, has not lent itself to healing from past afflictions. Instead, it has in many respects only deepened the scars of pain and division from the past, making reconciliation all the more difficult if not, in some cases, impossible.

Solving the underlying causes of social pain rather than politically profiting from them means focusing on healing wounds, not reinforcing long-held bases for hate and division. And that is hard work.

In South Carolina where the attack was as vicious and senseless as any, Gov. Nikki Haley and the people of South Carolina proved they could rise above their differences and find peace and forgiveness. It did mean symbols of hatred had to be retired to the annals of history as opposed to elevated to the doorsteps of government. But South Carolina proved it could be done. Of course, not all of the problems in South Carolina were eliminated overnight. But big first steps were taken toward turning hostility into change — change necessary for compassion and forgiveness. Unfortunately, little of that has followed in the aftermath of Ferguson and similar tragedies.

Constant focus on that which makes us different makes coming together all the more difficult. E Pluribus Unum translated means “out of many, one.” Unfortunately, the politics of division has created exactly the opposite — out of one, many.

When a fan reads a sports page, he or she does not see the race, religion, orientation, national origin, etc., of a Major League Baseball player’s batting average. Instead, he or she sees a batting average free from all demographic differences.

Meritocracies operate that way. They focus the attention on winning or excelling as opposed to the many other distractions irrelevant to the outcome. That singular focus on winning or being the best has been what many Americans have lost.

As Americans try to sort through the recent tragedies, they face now the prospect of yet more candidates intent on dividing the country based on gender or religion. If the first female president does for gender relations what the first African-American president has done for race relations, the country could be in for even tougher times ahead. And if religion becomes a basis for division rather than unison, then the very foundations of the Constitution will be put to the test.

American unity — not party unity, or gender unity, or religious unity, or racial unity — is the ticket for restoring some sense of the Founding Fathers’ purpose in the Declaration of Independence. The American Dream reflects a unifying vision — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans.

There will always be struggles. But what made America great was facing them together — as one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Fighting each other as opposed to against each other is the path to a better and stronger America.


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