“To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values. We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals. At our best, we practice empathy, imagining ourselves in the lives and circumstances of others. This is the bridge across our nation’s deepest divisions.”
- George W. Bush, at the memorial service for slain Dallas police officers, July 12, 2016.
“And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same.”
- Michelle Obama, from the Epilogue of her book Becoming (2018, Crown Publishing Group)
Dear President Bush and Mrs. Obama:
We’ve never met. I am not a politician, reporter, or anyone else of consequence in your worlds. I’m just one of the many millions of Americans who, like you, longs to see an end to the bitter divisiveness that characterizes our country’s politics. And I feel compelled to write to you because I believe you might hold the key to bringing this about.
You have formed a bond which is truly unique in America today - a genuine, public friendship between political celebrities of different parties. You’ve shared a bit about your friendship in interviews, and we’ve seen the affection you have for each other in those touching viral moments at funerals and other events.
What I find most amazing about your relationship is this:
Though you have lived and breathed politics in a polarized era at the highest level, though your views on most issues differ sharply, though you come from very different backgrounds and your race and gender are different, none of that has stopped you from connecting on a human level, learning to appreciate the other’s perspective, and understanding just how much you have in common.
Those moments go viral for a reason. America desperately needs and wants what you have. Yes, we live in a “50-50” nation, and some of our fellow citizens loudly insist on being divisive. But the vast majority of Americans yearn for a way out of the constant discord.
I think the two of you, acting together, might be better positioned than any other Americans to lead us on that path, and here is why:
The forces of division are powerful, in large part because they dominate the media. From cable news to talk radio to social media, the dividers seem to grab all of the attention. The uniters - those who seek to civilize our discourse, help politicians find common ground, and get us talking to each other again, have a hard time being heard because division and nastiness are good for ratings and clicks and likes. Calls for dialogue, common ground, and civility - not so much.
Unless . . .
Unless they are championed by those with platforms so large, and a story so fascinating, that neither the media nor the partisans can ignore them. Your political celebrity, coupled with the compelling example of your bipartisan friendship, fit this bill perfectly. So I am asking you to consider jointly taking up the cause of depolarizing our politics.
Perhaps you could go on a speaking tour together, co-author a book, co-host a television or radio program, or lend your support to groups that are working to depolarize the country - anything to break through the media wall of divisive content and promote respectful dialogue and national unity.
It would not be easy of course, and I’m sure you can think of many reasons not to do it. Such an effort would certainly be a departure from how other former presidents and first ladies have spent their time after leaving the White House. It would also inevitably cause a backlash, as any bipartisan effort does these days. But desperate times call for desperate measures. Each of you has enormous reserves of goodwill within your respective parties. Please use those reserves to convince America to come together. Future generations will thank you.
President Bush, your first campaign for president included a commitment to be a uniter.
Mrs. Obama, your husband rose to national prominence declaring that there are not red states or blue states, just the United States.
Unfortunately, those aspirations were overtaken by events during your time in the White House. But it’s not too late. Today, the two of you working together may be our best hope for seeing those aspirations become reality.