It's Time for Leaders to Step Up

This morning, for the first time since September 11, 2001, I shed tears for my country. I didn’t just get misty-eyed, I wept outright. After September 11, I wept about threats from beyond our borders. Today, in contrast, I weep for fractures and fragility within our country. I weep for my 25-year-old daughter, in her first year teaching 7th grade English to low-income, racially diverse students in Hayward, California, who today must explain the outcome of yesterday’s election to her young students. I weep for the future of my 4-day-old grand-nephew, who in a couple of decades will inherit whatever this country has to offer. I weep for the Latino laborers currently painting my suburban deck, who today must wonder what this election means for their aspirations.

The 2016 election — both the campaign process and its outcome — tells me that this country has too long side-stepped fundamental discernment of our bedrock values and obligations as Americans. Our political discourse is superficial and artificial. Many if not most of us fail to engage in any meaningful way with people who differ from us – in residence, political affiliation, income, and/or ethnicity. As individual Americans, each of us must strive to change that. As democratically elected leaders, you have a special obligation to do the same, and to encourage greater fidelity to our country’s founding values in everything you do.

I am a middle-aged professional and a self-identified policy wonk, but I urge you to put aside political business as usual and do the hard but essential work of revisiting our country’s core values and fundamental priorities. Please do not enter this new phase of our polity with a sheaf of policy white papers nor a set of pre-drafted legislation, even ones that conform to your campaign promises. Do not delude yourselves that success means repealing Obamacare or renegotiating NAFTA. For too long legislators and elected officials have devoted too much time to technical, transactional solutions that are at best window dressing. If I previously had any doubt, [Tuesday's] election told me that such work does not address the deep yearnings of the people of this country.

Instead, I beseech and demand that you step back and take stock of your own values, and that you seek out and listen very carefully to the values of your constituents. Once you have taken stock of those values, use your bully pulpit to model and speak about those values with confidence and resonance, in ways that lift up and unite rather than demean and divide.