Last weekend, I took a trip to the countryside to clear my head. There is nothing like a long car ride to give one time to think. Like television these days, it is critical to ration radio time—except for music—if one is to stay functional and optimistic. So part way to my destination, I rummaged around the glove compartment and found some CDs I had not played in years. (OK, I drive an old car.)
First, I slid a Kenny Loggins disk into the player. Instantly, The House at Pooh Corner, first performed by Loggins and Messina, took me right back to the days when I was still raising kids. Though not necessarily intended for children, the song’s nostalgia for a simpler time brought a lump to my throat. James Taylor was up next. Finally, as I was nearing my destination, I ended the journey with Dionne Warwick’s Greatest Hits. Metaphorically, I screeched on the brakes.
“What’s it all about, Alfie? / Is it just for the moment we live? / What’s it all about / When you sort it out Alfie? / Are we meant to take more than we give? / Or are we meant to be kind?”
By now numerous “Trump Pence 2020,” “Trump Won” and “Impeach Biden” signs—nailed to the sides of barns, fences and mailboxes—had disappeared behind me.
“If only fools are kind, Alfie / Then I guess it is wise to be cruel / And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie / What will you lend on an old golden rule?”
As Dionne sang these quizzical words, my car passed a “F*** Biden” flag, affixed to a mailbox located almost on the road. (The word did not use asterisks.)
What I had hoped would be an escapist jaunt into the countryside on a sparkling fall afternoon, ended a few miles later with more marketing merchandise. (Why try and better the nation when you can cash in on some people’s legitimate grievances?)
As I reached the top of a gradual hill, I was confronted with a “Let’s Go Brandon” flag billowing in the breeze. This is the latest four-lettered way to insult the President of the United States, and our independent press—in a catchy, dog-whistle kinda way.
“I know there is something much more / Something even non-believers can believe in,” Dionne sang, ironically, just as I reached this point.
The legendary Hal David/Burt Bacharach lyrics made me wonder—what is it that all Americans believe in these days?
Is there anything left that we all stand for? Dionne Warwick sang it is “love.” For our nation, the answer is not so simple. But finding that last acre of common ground is one of the principal requirements of leadership. Civility is not the only answer, but it must be a key American value that elevates our discourse and frees us to debate, together, our higher aspirations.
As hard as this is, without civility we are unable to address the leadership crisis that is evident to us all. Despite expressed frustrations among all political factions, every day we see the failure of both political parties to articulate the optimistic, overarching reason why we stand together as one nation—you know, the thing that it’s all about.
With best wishes,