Columnist hopes civil discourse will follow election

By Kenneth Kowald

Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there is no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”

Augustine (354-430), bishop of Hippo, now in Algeria, wrote those words about the religious disagreements of his time. His words, I believe, apply more than equally well to the political world we find ourselves in.

Those in Washington, Albany and City Hall and all legislators and governors in all 50 states would do well to have those words inscribed for all of them to see every day, and for their constituents to see every day as well.

The other side of the coin on discourse was written by a Hearst columnist, the day after the election of Harry S. Truman. I believe it was Westbrook Pegler, who snarled these lines or something close to it, since I have not found the exact quotation: “Well, the American people got what they deserved!”

I wrote this before all the results were in, but some things are clear: Barack Obama continues to be president. The Republicans continue to be the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democrats continue to be the majority in the U.S. Senate.

In New York state, the partisan split in the state Legislature may continue, with Andrew Cuomo continuing as governor.

In our state, however, the last two years have turned out to be more Augustine in discourse and effectiveness than the snarls of the opponents in our nation’s capital. Those in Albany, for the most part, have shown that government can function.

In a fantasy world, a defeated candidate might make this kind of concession speech: “We fought long and hard and we lost. My opponent fought long and hard and won. I accept the results, but I hope all of us will remember that in the United States, we pledge our allegiance to one country with liberty and justice for all. We do not make that pledge to a party or a position. We make it to the nation we love. I urge you to support the new government any way you can. We are all in this together. We shall either sail together or sink together. I, for one, will do my part to help in any way I can. We are all Americans and we lose only when we forget that.”

Is it a fantasy? Do we follow the civil discourse of an Augustine or the snarls of a Pegler?

We made some choices Nov. 6. This is a nation of government of the people, by the people and for the people. We should make sure our elected representatives remember that every day.

We have a choice every day: come to the table with a humility about seeking the truth, whatever it may be, or snarl our way through more years of increasingly divisive name-calling and lying.

I would hope the choice is clear.

Please reread Augustine’s comments at the beginning of this column. You might want to keep a copy and, perhaps, send one to your elected representatives.

You never know. Someone, somewhere may listen.

Read my blog, No Holds Barred, at timesledger.com.

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