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America seems to be in a never-ending state of turmoil. The U.S. death toll from the COVID-19 virus has now exceeded 243,000, with more than 120,000 new cases daily. Black Lives Matter protesters continue demanding social justice following recent tension between the police and persons of all colors that resulted in deadly confrontations. Fires, drought, storms and floods are ravaging cities, destroying infrastructure and decimating farms.

Add abnormally high unemployment, few new jobs and the resulting economic desperation, home-grown terrorism and climate degradation, and we have the recipe for national and global disaster.

America just witnessed another partisan and vicious Supreme Court confirmation. Meanwhile, the president continues to cast doubt on the viability of the electoral process itself and has refused to commit to the lawful transfer of power now that Joe Biden has been named President-Elect. With the unprecedented number of mail-in and absentee ballots cast this election because of the pandemic, it was critical that every vote be counted. A smooth transition of leadership and unconditional acceptance from the electorate and each of the candidates is essential to affirming our democratic process.

Candidates for public office talk glowingly about innovation, but to truly unleash our nation’s creative spirit, we must rectify the negative behavior that now characterizes American politics. Decorum and civility have sunk to extreme depths. Clearly, we must elect leaders from each party who demonstrate the potential, integrity and skill-sets necessary to address the wide range of problems afflicting our country.     

The presidential debates stained the stature and prestige of this esteemed office. President Trump’s rude and unacceptable conduct on stage and his inflammatory rhetoric at news conferences, rallies and on social media are unbecoming of an American president. Myriad acts of retaliation and the intense polarization between the two major parties and their supporters come at great cost to our nation, and the incivility and name-calling on both sides of the aisle is childish and abhorrent.

These and other recent actions will have future historians shaking their heads. From the speaker of the house shredding the president’s State of the Union Address to the senate majority leader refusing to allow a hearing for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, then ramming through the Amy Coney Barrett nomination a few weeks ago, we are witnessing politics at their worst.

It’s hard to imagine how far we have fallen from the days when our country’s founding fathers argued passionately yet collaborated as statesmen in the interest of creating a new form of government.

Debate and conciliation carried the day in 1787 when delegates to the Constitutional Convention, many with different political persuasions, forged a new Constitution. Far from a perfect document, as evident from the 3/5 Compromise and the continuation of the slave trade for an additional 20 years, the final draft was designed to appease plantation owners, miners, munitions merchants, military leaders, farmers, manufacturers and shipbuilders.

By studying how our nation’s founders constructed a new Constitution, today’s leaders could learn much about the art of compromise and listening to one another’s opinions. Opposing views aren’t unique – debate is one of the great virtues of American democracy – but the negativity, rancor, name calling, distrust and personal assaults harm rather than elevate the stature of our politics. 

We are at a dangerous and, frankly, terrifying moment in our country’s history, where desperation, stubbornness, anger and selfishness seem to rise above discussion, fairness and cooperation.

Many of us wonder if our nation can heal in light of the ugly divisiveness that has engulfed our politics. One path is clear: the leaders we elect to national office, specifically those who model the art of compromise and understand what it means to behave like statesmen, are our only salvation. These right behaviors, modeled from the top of polity, also must trickle down through federal government to state and local officials.

Politics is not just about power and control. Going forward, it is imperative for our nation’s policymakers to respect civil discourse and to find ways to agree to disagree about topics of grave importance without resorting to personal degradation and hostility. This truly is a bipartisan problem, and one that only can be fixed by consensus and collaboration, with all sides working together for the good of our country. 

Gary Rose is an author, professor and chair of the Department of Government at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield.

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