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The upcoming elections will be about more than who the next person or party to occupy one or another office or collection of offices will be, or what policies and whose interests any one of them will individually promote. Those would make it a normal election. Winners win, losers lose—and voters decide who is which based only upon what candidates SAY, one candidate at a time. But, these elections will be much more important than that.

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That’s because the country desperately needs the people we elect—from President to Dog Catcher and from Washington, DC to every corner of the Nation—to DO SOMETHING. Sweet-sounding campaign promises and sugar-coated talking points—normal electioneering—will only dig us all deeper into the mire we’re already stuck in.

Imagine: what would historians of the future term this election, if we merely vote to retain party affiliations of all the people we elect? Historians might refer to it as “nationcide”—or, simply, as “The End”.

But, doing “Something, Anything” won’t do, either. Instead, the country must elect people who as a group will be capable of and disposed toward DOING SOMETHING; indeed, SOMETHING VERY PARTICULAR. They MUST help us learn how to search effectively, together for (and hopefully, to find) ways we can transcend the “Abraham Lincoln-sized” rift that several decades of self-validation, self-congratulation, self-proclaimed “exceptionalism”—and just plain taking the easy way through—have left the country facing.

And we must ourselves commit to DOING the work of learning how to learn how to help them help us. DOING THAT will require negotiating and implementing—and paying for—this generation’s response to President Lincoln’s admonition concerning an earlier rift: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

President Lincoln knew of what he spoke. Yet, even he failed to keep his divided house standing, and at the almost unimaginably horrible cost of over 600,000 lives (imagine: in hard numbers, at least 150 times today’s 9/11 death toll; or, even more appalling as a portion of the total US population of that time, which according to, the 1860 US Census reported as 31,443,321), Lincoln and his team put the country back together… or at least kinda/sorta did, if we overlook Jim Crow laws, poll taxes, and housing segregation, Plessey v Ferguson—and depending on your view of contemporary “RED state/BLUE state” politics.

But, LEARNING how to DO SOMETHING about our generation’s version of Lincoln’s “house divided” is only a start toward actually DOING the several SOMETHINGS that we will elect people to DO this Fall. The people we elect this Fall will also have to overcome institutional gridlock that amplifies the impact of division over substance and complicates the already challenging task of making our “house” whole again.

What this means is that we need to DO several things in these elections. We need to develop new ways to speak about what we need to DO. To me, that means more team-oriented terms, like “us”, “our”, and “we”. It’s true: there is no “I” in “Team”, and none in “We, the People”, either.

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There is, however, an “E-Y-E” on American currency. And every time we see it, I hope we begin to see that there is one thing that even an all-seeing eye can never see: it can never see itself seeing. Let me emphasize: Even though my eyes can see your eyes seeing any time I care to look, and your eyes can see my eyes seeing any time you care too look, there is no time when either of us can see our own eyes seeing.

That’s crucial to resolving this nation’s division thing. Acting from presumed certainty in the face of uncertainties regarding the very starting points of literally each of our political views can lead only to disrespectful shouting matches. In the face of such huge uncertainties, only a courageous humility offers any hope of getting us out of the mess we’ve gotten us into. That is, a courageous humility grounded in an open-minded, forward looking, accident avoidance approach both to problem defining and to problem solving.

A personal anecdote might help here. Back in early 1954, when my cousin joined me at four years old, I joined him in celebrating his Birthday. Someone gave him a set of Lincoln Logs as a present. Those logs led us to a serious disagreement over whether they were called “wogs” or “yogs”. So “serious” did our disagreement get that I eventually ran to an “impartial observer”, my Mother (OK, maybe not so impartial) exclaiming, “Cousin Blair is calling these ‘wogs’, ‘yogs’”—or something crucial like that?

The significance of this anecdote lies in the humility it should induce in our listening and open even our most fundamental beliefs to questioning. It should lead us to feel more curious of and more respectful about how other people approach even how a “problem” gets defined.

If that doesn’t cause pause, or at least some national turning down of the heat. There may be some aspects of disagreement where all “sides” grounded in old taxonomies are wrong—and only learning new ways offers any prospect of remedying problems

Notwithstanding the demonstrated disposition of so many disparate groups to arrogate unto themselves the right to speak the intentions of the Framer’s, we need to DEVELOP a sense of gentle responsiveness; to start with, NO TALKING POINTS and NO TELEPROMPTERS, either, for either side. Candidates might actually learn that they must actually listen to each other, if they hope to appear to listen to each other.

Let me synthesize my argument: The Fall Elections will be pivotal in influencing how the US itself will be able to influence the future of the country and the world. Either the elections will change the distribution of power among the various parties in the US enough to transcend the country’s political, economic, and social divisions; or the Fall Elections will reproduce those divisions, and weaken the standing of the country in its international relations. My hope is that somehow neither result will lead to war.

robert letcher

Robert Letcher

Posted: Tuesday, 31 July 2012