It all begins with R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Arguably, some of the most inspiring words in a speech were when President Obama stated, “We are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America.”
Because of those words, many Americans believed he would bring about healing to our nation and help bridge our economic, racial, and socio-political divide. Six years later, however, just the opposite has happened. There are even greater numbers of poor and dependents, and the political and social discourse is even more divisive, caustic, and non-productive than it has ever been.
Gone, it seems, are the days when one could have a discussion with someone of differing political viewpoints, be congenial, conciliatory, or even come to a point of agreement. How did we even get here? How did it become so bad that many average citizens have abandoned the political process all together out of sheer disgust? Like me, they feel the political process is no longer about working together for the American people; it’s about gaining leverage over one’s political opponents.
But personal experience has taught me that it is essential to work from a position of mutual respect. It is never helpful, for example, to denigrate the intentions of my husband — no matter how wrong I may think he is. Likewise, the same might be true for having constructive dialogue in the political arena.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating avoiding debate. Quite the opposite, out of respect there ought to be open communication that allows for genuine and substantive debate. It is fair to identify the results and consequences of one’s policies and decisions, and question whether they are right or wrong. But it is quite another thing to label opposing groups, or viewpoints as racist, hateful, or narrow-minded, no matter how emotionally satisfying it may be. Such a tactic is not only divisive, it shuts down future discussions. If one can be labeled a racist extremist or obstructionists, their arguments no longer matters, no matter how well-reasoned they are.
I have heard it argued that Congress does not want to work with the president, and many including our U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, have claimed that our president is being more disrespected than any other president in history. However, things are said against every president like Reagan being an idiot, Clinton referred to as “Slick Willie,” and George Bush not caring for Katrina victims. Every president has faced harsh criticism from his political opponents, but these presidents still seemed to build direct relationships Congress in order to identify solutions for our country.
Currently, I see a president who has met with Congress less than a dozen times in the last five years, consistently blames them for issues, denigrates their ideas, and pressures them to accept what he wants or he will, “act on his own.” Rather than foster respect, these actions seem to be disrespectful, and as the president I do hold him more accountable for setting the political tone in our nation.
Rather than planting seeds of racial, political, and economic division through rhetoric and political bullying, I long for the day when the president, despite being the most powerful man on the face of the earth, would take the humble position and accept his responsibility for the truly divided course our nation is now on.
I long for him to set a congenial tone and meet with Congress and demonstrate how we, in his words, can work “calloused hand in calloused hand” to build up our nation again. I long for him to demonstrate that he does not serve one political party by attending dozens of fundraisers, but recognize that he serves all Americans - Republican and Democrat, black and white, wealthy and poor.
If we are to have any hope of our federal government working together, it is the president who has to lead by example and show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]