The Day After

As Dick Gregory used to say when talking about social change, “In a forest fire, there comes a time when the only thing that will save us is a ‘shift in the wind’”. Well, we certainly witnessed a shift in the wind yesterday with the mid-term election results.

This blog is dedicated to the idea that those of us who are “old enough to know better” have a special role and an opportunity to make a difference. Today is one of those moments where we can choose to exercise our wisdom and maturity or we can let the pollsters and media pundits do our thinking for us.

As much as I would like to cheer the Democrats’ victory and gloat insofar as I have been on the other side of almost all of the Republican policies, I am refraining from doing so.

While a change in Congressional leadership may be significant, the far larger issue is how can this change become the beginning of a new discourse in America about who we are and how we will conduct ourselves at home and abroad. The cynics will no doubt argue with some justification that it doesn’t matter who is in charge: the system is the same for both parties and all politicians are not to be trusted. I am not a cynic. I prefer to believe that politicians are human beings and will respond or, in some cases, ‘bend’ to the public will.

What is missing, however, is the leadership—not in Washington, but in each of our communities—to mend the schism that has divided us and broken our political discourse. We have lost the appreciation for genuine rhetoric, for people of character taking a stand on principle and a process of dialogue and compromise that can once again reflect a nation that is based in the rule of law and respect for our differences. We have forgotten who we are and have been reduced to defending short-term positions, rather than debating and aligning our population on core principles and values that will shape and guide us in the uncertain times ahead.

We must remember or create clarity about ‘who we are’, individually and collectively. To a large extent, America has already become a marketplace for empty promises. Voters have been reduced to consumers of whatever the system is selling today. To me, freedom, democracy, this land of opportunity, and our responsibility as a world leader is bigger than any marketplace. My respect for each citizen demands that we not sell out our ideals or independent thinking to the media manipulators and ‘spin doctors’. This view is idealistic to be sure, but it is a view I believe is shared by most of my generation (and perhaps many others as well).

My challenge to each of us as we grow older is whether we will take action, have conversations, participate in and facilitate the ‘shift in the wind’—or will we remain spectators in these critical times?