The first time I covered a president running for reelection was in 1996, when I joined the Clintons and Gores as part of the traveling press corps on a heartland tour.
What seemed normal then – the candidates and their spouses diving into crowds, shaking hands – feels alien today. Also remarkable were the Republican voters in the crowd who had no intention of voting for President Bill Clinton but came anyway, camcorder in hand, kids in tow. “I wanted my children to see the president,” Lee Elliott, a Kentucky physician, told me.
Today, America seems unable to find common ground on anything, from the trivial – buy a sandwich at Chick-fil-A, yes or no? – to the profoundly important, such as how to behave during a pandemic. Large majorities say declining trust in the federal government, and in each other, is making it harder to solve the nation’s problems, according to the Pew Research Center.
How can we as individuals be part of the solution? For starters, we can do our part to keep a fraying civil society from getting worse.
One answer may be as simple as maintaining old friendships, even when opinions diverge sharply. As a political reporter, I have the privilege of talking to people with sincerely held views from across the political spectrum, and can honestly say that most Americans love their country and want the best for it and its people.
When this campaign is over, the nation will have an opportunity. We can take a deep breath, be grateful for what we have, and then set about making our “more perfect Union” even better.
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