Commentary: Americans need to take the high road

Roger Barbee

During international athletic events, American fans can be heard chanting U-S-A during important or dramatic times of a competition. The chant is used to encourage our athletes, to recognize their accomplishments, and to let our opposition know who we are. Other countries do the same, and it is in good sportsmanship.

The Romantic poet William Wordsworth wrote “London, 1802” in that year. The sonnet is addressed to John Milton wishing he were alive in 1802 to help lead England out of its woes. Wordsworth writes that “she [England] is a fen/ Of stagnant waters;” He continues by stating, “We are selfish men;” and asks the dead Milton to “return to us again;/ And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.”

A recent column by Froma Harrop also makes a plea, not to Milton, but to all of us to maintain standards in our daily and political lives. She asks that elected leaders do what our mothers told us to do —“Take the high road.” Therefore, the Senate should hold serious and polite hearings for President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. Not to hear him, she writes, will “further degrade a shabby landscape.” Gorsuch, by all reports, is a decent human being, and for that and his stellar record, he deserves to at least be heard.

Sadly, Harrop could be writing in Wordsworth’s England of 1802. Her “shabby landscape” is full of selfish men and women who have ceased having civil, political discourse. Also, reading letters to the editor, I see rude comments from writers about those they disagree with. Our elementary playground behavior from the top of our culture to the bottom has produced this “shabby landscape,” and it may prove Pogo correct.

It seems that America has lost its way. In May 2016, I saw a church sign that read: “It’s official, America has lost her mind.” Strong words for sure, and maybe not quite true. Many readers may disagree with the sign’s sentiment; many may agree with it. Some may think Gorsuch is not worthy of being on the Supreme Court, some may see him as exactly what is needed. Some readers may agree with the yard sign that reads: “Go Trump,” some may not. Some may appreciate Steve Bannon’s power, some may shudder at it. We all have opinions, and that is good. However, if our opinion(s) are formed after only reading or hearing what we want to read or hear, then I think that is problematic. Some citizens that I talk with get their news from only one of several options. A few have shared that they get “news” from their friends on Facebook.  But I see news like a meal — if we never eat our vegetables we cheat our overall health. A poet who also teaches the writing of poetry tell her students to read poets, both the ones they like and the ones they do not like. That seems to me to be good advice. By reading or watching a variety of news sources we are eating those vegetables!

After the Battle of Lake Erie, American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry wrote to his commander, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours.” During the turmoil of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, Walt Kelly had his comic strip character Pogo turn Perry’s words to, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”  Again, like the church sign mentioned earlier, these are strong words, yet they may be an accurate description of our “shabby landscape.” Have we become our enemy?

Let’s begin to have honest discourse with each other where we not only speak civilly, but hear accurately and with respect. Imagine if you have had an argument with someone. The only true way to heal that gap is through honest discourse in person. Yet, how do we often attempt to heal differences — through texting, Facebook, twitter, or such. In my opinion, healing must take place face to face because we speak differently when the other person is present, and we can see each other’s body language. Leave the social media for trivial sharing of information.

In my readings of the Gospel Luke, Jesus shares many meals with the Pharisees, the people who violently oppose him. Yet, he often enters one of their homes to share a meal and civil discourse. The least we can do, it seems to me, is to have civil discourse with each other. Let’s be decent people and shout, “U-S-A” until we all have purple faces.

Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg.