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In what kind of nation do you desire to live? 

In what kind of nation do you desire to live? 

Roger L. Thompson

Recently I attended a conference in Charleston, South Carolina where I spoke on one of the panels. One of the keynote speakers during the conference was former Congressman Trey Gowdy. He covered several topics, but the main thrust of his speech focused on the divided nation. He mentioned how many Republicans have no Democrat friends and how many Democrats have no Republican friends illustrating the division and divisive nation in which we are presently living. He articulated what many of us have heard and believed for sometime that people watch the news channel that affirms their beliefs.

It seems the world we live in today is becoming more and more divisive and polarized. We want to circle around us those who think and act like we think and act. Hence, our circle gets smaller and smaller and we take issue with those who are not a part of our immediate circle. This is true no matter with which political party one may identify.

The attitude of division is never far from us and not limited to any one particular political party. This last week, I experienced an encounter with a man from out of town who was attending the Woody Guthrie Festival. I inquired how things were going, and he immediately commented on how much he disliked Okemah. He said he hated this town. When I inquired why, he noted the town refers to all of the Woody folks as “woke” and treats them as such. I commented that I was sorry to hear this and would address the concern.

First of all, I do not believe the statement to be true. Sometimes in life one finds what they are expecting and not the reality around them.  In my experience in Okemah there may be those who hold different political views but still enjoy the people and the music of Woodyfest. I know that I do.  We are not automatically enemies because we are of different political parties.

After all, it was Woody Guthrie who said: “Left wing, chicken wing, it don’t make no difference to me.”   I believe I saw a few people wearing this hat during the festival.

The question we all need to answer is “What type of nation do we wish to live?”  If it is a divided nation always on the verge of civil unrest and discord then we can continue doing what we are presently doing. However, if it is a nation where different and divergent ideas can be discussed in a productive environment, then we must proactively engage in making a difference.

One cannot safely assume that I endorse all of the rhetoric of my political party. I believe that is probably true with most people and their political parties. I remember when political meetings were held years ago in Okemah and the entire room at Aspen would be filled or the basement of Brick Street packed with citizens who did not all hold the same political ideology. Today, if a gathering of 20-30 show up, it is labeled as a good turn out.

Discussion of ideas and even at times a little political friction produces democracy. But retreating to our corners and only reaffirming our beliefs by limiting our news source and our friendships creates a world of animosity and division.

Today, we have much to be thankful for in our lives. Yet, we have many challenges. We are challenged by how we will take care of our youth and our elderly. It has been said that one can tell the worth of a nation by the way they care for their children and their elderly.  We need good schools. We need good hospitals and nursing homes.  We have those around us that need food on a regular basis. Some need additional housing assistance. We need good roads, jobs and infrastructure. We need women and men who will lead us into the next generation by looking forward. We are always stronger when we walk together.

I am often troubled because many of the political fights that we see are not centered around people and their needs, they are centered around fund raising. This is true on the right and on the left. Just watch and see when the next “life challenging moment” occurs.  Before the last word is spoken in the newscast or the ink is dry on the newspaper about Russia, China, abortion, charges filed, legislation filed or outbreak of war, there is an immediate call for additional political funds to help someone fight the next political battle.

I am not naive. I know there are serious world and internal threats that must be addressed.  This has been true in America since the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. However, I also know that our forefathers fought many of the battles because of people and not just political ideology.

Deadlock happens in Congress when people refuse to reach across the aisle and work together.  What used to be confined to Washington D.C and labeled Washington politics has now found its way to Oklahoma.  Political gridlock is not good for Washington and it is not good for Oklahoma.

However, instead of talking about reaching across the aisle, let’s talk about reaching across the street and talking to our neighbor even though they may look and think different than we do.  Let’s talk about truly listening to other ideas and perspectives and not just listening and associating with those who affirm my beliefs.

As Trey Gowdy writes about in his new book, let us once again turn to the art of persuasion. If our ideas are truly good for America, then let’s spend our time trying to persuade people to walk with us and not force them walk with us.

In what type of Nation do you want to live?  I want to live in a nation where people are free to express their ideas, thoughts and dreams and still be respected by those who may differ. I want to live in a nation where political ideas are still debated and discussed.  I want to live in a nation where people are always more important than politics.

As John F. Kennedy once said: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

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