We were on Kevin Road in West Baltimore, probably 1957, Mike and I walking home after a tough day in 6th Grade at St. Bernardine’s parochial school. Mike, just six months my senior but always seeming years older and wiser, suddenly declared, “We’re democrats.” I have no recollection what preceded that statement, or why two 11-year olds would be discussing anything even remotely hinged to political dialogue in the Leave It To Beaver world of the 1950s, but I very clearly recall the conviction with which Mike spoke. Not a comment; rather, a declaration of fact; the “we” not a reference to Mike’s family but rather our entire neighborhood.

We are? I wondered. I hardly knew the difference between a democrat and a Phillips head screwdriver but, curiously, I then found myself thinking, Says who?

For the past fifty-odd years, I’ve been doing my best to avoid facile, submissive categorization—and not just politically. Yet, today’s world is so categorically splintered as to call to question how it remains whole.

We take sides and brutally demonize one another on a conceptual level. Yet, we somehow manage to care for and support one another on a personal level. We all have friends and family who hold views in total contrast to our own–views we vilify from afar and literally want to defeat. Yet, up close and personal, vilification gets a sense of humor. It’s softened by good-natured ribbing, if somewhat snarky debate.

Today’s politicians could do with a dose of that. Perhaps that’s why I hear certain commentators wistfully recall the days when Ronald Reagan was President and Tip O’Neill was Speaker of the House. Two men with sharply different views on how best to serve the nation; they could respectfully arm-wrestle all day and still hoist a beer together at its end.

We could use those guys right now.


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