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Stronger together? Yes, Mrs. Clinton, but what does 'together' really mean?

Bridging divides

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats say America is stronger together. But they're not yet living up to the unifying spirit of their slogan.

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    A delegate holds up a "Stronger Together" sign at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last month.
    Carlos Barria/Reuters
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Because I needed props for a theatrical performance, I bought campaign paraphernalia from several of the final candidates. So, snuggled together on the shelf behind my desk, I have a Trump hat, a Hillary T-shirt, a Bernie coffee mug, and a couple of Cruz buttons.

As you can imagine, people are often confused by the collection. They have never seen all four of those items in the same place at the same time. But isn’t that actually an accurate portrait of what Hillary Clinton’s slogan, “stronger together,” means?

Because of my work, which is building bridges across the partisan divide, I sent my recent book to the Clinton and Trump campaigns. I received responses from both. From the vice-chair of her campaign, Huma Abedin, I received a very courteous note thanking me for supporting her candidate and wishing me much success with the book. And from “Team Trump” I received a thank you letter and two bumper stickers that say (guess what?): “Make America Great Again!”  

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But let me set the record straight. When “Team Trump” told me they were “honored to call me a valuable member of our team and to work with us on rescuing the future of our country,” I realized that they had not taken my letter seriously. I was not volunteering to join their campaign. I was asking them to change the way they were campaigning. I asked them to read my book because I wanted their standard-bearer to unite America, not divide it. Obviously, they are not listening.

And although I strongly prefer Secretary Clinton to Mr. Trump for president, I was not volunteering to work on her campaign, either. I sent my book because I wanted the Clinton campaign to change its tone as well.

Muzzling a Bernie protester

I watched Clinton speak recently to a crowd of 3,000 ardent fans in a packed high school gymnasium in Colorado.  Carefully positioned behind Hillary so that the cameras would see her, a lone dissenter held up a cloth banner that read “Stop DNC Corruption” and shouted out the same message denouncing the Democratic National Committee. But Clinton supporters around her held up their blue placards with the words “Stronger Together” so that she and her protest sign soon became invisible.

It is just one detail on the campaign trail, of course. But it was a telling moment because it reminds us that “stronger together” is not just a slogan for getting elected. Just as the words “Make America Great Again” cannot be reduced to blindly endorsing an egomaniac, “Stronger Together” cannot be reduced to rallying around one remarkable woman. Unless it means something more than that, it feels more like George Orwell’s “newspeak” than an uplifting call for unity.

The protester being silenced and surrounded was a Bernie Sanders supporter. She was an older, solitary woman who still harbored a grudge about how her hero from Vermont had been treated by DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her staff. If the next president of the United States cannot include her in the “stronger together” tent, then what exactly does “together” mean?

While the Sanders dissenter was being escorted from the gym, Clinton was repeating one of her favorite lines from her convention speech.  “I want to be the president for all Americans,” she shouted over the raucous applause. “Democrats, Republicans, and Independents!” 

Despite that admirable rhetoric, neither campaign currently embodies the deepest meaning of “stronger together.” Before Clinton spoke, for example, no independents or Republicans were invited to speak. To make matters worse, when US Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) of Colorado opened the event, he welcomed the audience by shouting out a welcome to all the “Colorado Democrats” present in the room.

Ouch.

Listening to independents 

Like 4 in 10 Americans, I am an Independent. I know for a fact that there were many of us, as well as Republicans, in the gym. Yet the congressman’s welcome was only to members of his party. His words contradicted what Clinton was claiming she wanted to be – a president for “all Americans.” And it undermined the slogan being waved madly in the air by the crowd.

So if “stronger together” is going to be the mantra for the Clinton campaign, let’s take it seriously.

• We need to learn from those who disagree with us, not demonize them.

• We commit ourselves to developing a healthy relationship with our adversaries, not treating them like “enemies.”

• We focus on meeting the challenges facing our country (problem-solving) rather than being “right” (position-taking).

• We remember that after campaigning comes governing, and whoever wins needs to be able to lead our country effectively in a troubled world.

In other words, let’s not just carry the banner. Let’s behave that way toward others. If we actually want to be “stronger together,” let’s not just shout it; let’s be it. 

– Mark Gerzon, president of Mediators Foundation, is the author of "The Reunited States of America; How We Can Cross the Partisan Divide." He writes his Beyond Red & Blue blog exclusively for Politics Voices.

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