This is not about how you’re going to vote in November. That’s important, of course, and making an informed decision and casting a ballot is something every American should do.
But this is about the choices we make every day, about the kind of Americans we want to be. It’s about the kind of people we want to be. About how we want to treat the other people we share this country with. Because this isn’t your land, or my land. This is our land.
So what kind of American do you want to be? Do you want to be an American willing to consider the widely varying viewpoints and beliefs that exist in our country? Or do you want to be an American who shouts down someone who doesn’t see the world exactly as you do, or believe exactly what you do?
Do you want to be the kind of American who respects other people’s faith, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and life choices? Or do you want to be the kind of American who hurls insults or might even take violent steps to show how much you hate them and everything they stand for?
Do you want to be the kind of American who will do what you can to help your neighbors? Or who will grab everything you can for yourself, no matter what it takes or who it hurts?
Consider these two true stories of people who are volunteering by knocking on doors to talk to neighbors about a candidate they support. One of them spoke to someone who said, “I’m voting for the other guy but I appreciate that you’re out here doing this.” The other volunteer — who took her daughter along to teach her about civic engagement — was told by her fellow American, “Get your black ass off my porch.”
Which one of those Americans do you want to be?
It’s not even just about politics. Do you want to be the guy at the grocery store who doesn’t rush to the newly opened checkout lane because other people were already waiting? Or do you want to be the guy who pushes everyone aside as if they’re not even there?
I realize that as Americans, we’re going to have our own opinions, as we should. And with those come differences and disagreements. I’m not shy about speaking my mind — and yes, I am sometimes critical of politicians and others whose actions or policies trouble me. Especially if they’re lying, cheating or being hypocritical. I check my facts and I focus on educating people about the truth. I often use humor to make a point and, I admit, sometimes I can be downright snarky. That usually means I’ve been pushed to my limit. But I don’t believe in stooping to the level of lying or hate-speech or attacking someone’s personal choices.
And that, right there, is where I think people too often cross the line. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with our President or anyone else. I do have a problem with blatant disrespect, lies and abusive rhetoric. It’s never okay to threaten violence, even if you’re doing it from behind a computer screen.
The next couple of months are going to be intense. Yes, both sides will fight hard because that’s the reality of modern politics. It would be ideal if every candidate talked about nothing but the issues and specific plans for our country’s future. I’m eager for the debates, where we’ll see which candidate focuses on those points. Sadly, though, for the most part that’s not what tends to get in the news or capture the attention of much of the public.
But each and every one of us has the power to change that. In the words of Leo McGarry, we can raise the level of debate in this country. We can work hard to be civil, to be fair, to debate based on facts instead of hyperbole and hysteria. We can have conversations that serve to educate those we disagree with instead of tearing them down. We can have conversations that open our own minds. And we can certainly be kinder to each other, not just in political discourse but in everything we do, every day.
We can either be a country of Americans who treat each other with respect, tolerance and acceptance, or we can be a country of Americans who resort to insults, violence and hate.
What kind of American do you want to be?