Can we rebuild trust in America and in each other?

November 18th, 2020

On election day and for days afterward, I was glued to the TV. I flipped between channels, absorbing election results, minute by minute, county by county. Along with many other Americans, as they counted same-day ballots and mail-in ballots, I watched percentages rise and fall.

My throat tightened, and tears of joy slipped down my cheek as Kamala Harris, the first female Vice president-elect, spoke to the gathered crowds. I felt my heart fill as President-elect Joe Biden spoke of an America working together and giving each other a chance. This America is the America I know and love. This is the America I know we can rebuild trust in.

I know I am not alone. Friends old and new reached out and shared their relief and joy with me. At the same time, there are plenty of others — including family members, colleagues and friends — who aren’t relieved with the results.

Almost as many people voted for a second term for Donald Trump as voted for Joe Biden. As the political parties have grown increasingly distinct, and bipartisanship seems increasingly out of reach, these are not small differences. While about half the country held its breath for the last four years, the other half of the people felt heard, vindicated, and represented. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

Vindication aside, can these two Americas come back together again? Can we have a shared vision even if we don’t share everyday realities? Can trust, even understanding, in each other be restored?

To rebuild trust, we have to do better by each other. We need better politics that serves the people, not special interest groups.

How can we rebuild trust?

If we’re going to have better politics, we would need a shared morality. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Morality matters more than we commonly acknowledge. It’s all we have left to bind us into shared responsibility for the common good. Morality is our most powerful resource. Morality helps us turn disconnected ‘I’s’ into a collective ‘we.'” We use morality to shore up an “us vs. them” mentality, with each side claiming a higher ground.

Rabbi Sacks envisions a morality that “turns selfish genes into selfless people.” It turns “egoists into altruists, and self-interested striving into empathy, sympathy, and compassion for others.” That’s something perhaps ALL Americans could get behind.

If we’re going to have a shared morality, we would need to see each other as worthy. We would need to see each other as beloved human beings and become willing to understand each other’s grievances, hopes and dreams. That means we would need to stop looking for scapegoats and deal with our problems. America’s problem isn’t immigrants, people of other religions, ethnicities or cultures, or even people of another political persuasion. It’s that we have gotten disconnected from each other and lost our shared vision.

Americans are a creative lot. Guided by the wisdom of the ages, we can figure this out. First, we must rise above fear, let go of judgment and be willing to do the work of rebuilding a country that works for everyone.

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