What has become of the America we once knew? Former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter once said: “We don’t need holy wars. What we need is tolerance and brotherhood and simple humanity.” Sen. Specter’s words could not be more relevant today as we become more and more polarized from one another, and less tolerant of those who don’t agree with us.
Look at what happened as a result of one photo going viral of George W. Bush and Ellen DeGeneres sharing a laugh at a football game. DeGeneres’ Twitter account lit up with hateful tweets admonishing her for being friendly with a conservative former president. Oh, the outrage! Imagine, even being in the same room, let alone sitting next to a person with whom you disagree? When compromise in Washington politics and in the American psyche became a dirty word.
DeGeneres, never one to isolate herself from diversity, said about W in a recent People magazine story written by Ashley Boucher: “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different.” And isn’t that notion of inclusion and tolerance — of checks and balances and welcoming people from all walks of life onto our shores — what our Founding Fathers envisioned for the young Republic?
Yet, today it seems we are farther apart than ever. Immigrants are our enemies. The deep state is threatening our way of life. The news media are enemies of the people. Anyone who opposes us or has a differing opinion must be obliterated, or even worse, unfriended or unmercifully tweeted.
Having known both President Bushes for many years, I can say with total confidence that despite what one thinks about their politics, they never believed in the politics of hate. Competition and spirited debate? Yes. Hate? No. Divergent opinions were listened to and discussed. And there was always a joke or two thrown in for good measure. Friendships with those who did not share their personal beliefs were forged. Like the relationship that 41 and 43 had with Bill Clinton. Or as W once joked, “Bill was a brother from another mother.”
George W. Bush also has a warm relationship with Michelle Obama. On the surface they seem an unlikely pair, much the same as Ellen DeGeneres and the former president. But they share a unique place in history — being a former U.S. president and a former first lady. Michelle Obama, like George W. Bush, supports veterans, wounded warriors and their families. Both Obama and Bush value their own families, love to laugh, and have compassion for others. I saw this firsthand at the National Cathedral at President George H.W. Bush’s funeral, when George W. leaned over President Obama to give Michelle Obama a piece of candy. There could not have been a sweeter display of bipartisanship and friendship as that.
And some may recall another act of kindness when Barbara and Jenna Bush took the time to give Sasha and Malia Obama a personal tour of the White House before they moved in. As Sasha and Malia were leaving, the Bush twins wrote them a heartfelt letter sharing some of their insights and fond memories as well as chronicling the milestones in the Obama sisters’ lives.
The country needs more of those moments and less of the Twitter bullying, both from the left and right.
So, what’s the solution? Stop tweeting and start talking. Take the time to listen and reflect on what the other person is saying and recognize that our differences are our greatest strengths. The ability to forge and retain friendships across party, racial, and ethnic lines is what makes our America a country worth cherishing.
Dava Guerin is the author of seven books and lives in Berlin, Md.