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Column: Americans must unite against politics that divide us

Nate Terani, an Arizonan and Muslim who served on the U.S. Navy Presidential Honor Guard, joined others urging Sen. John McCain to stand up for veterans and withdraw his Trump endorsement. (Photo by Emily Zentner/Cronkite News)

By Nate Terani –

Among our Founders’ greatest fears was the rise of divisive factions within American society.  Because we are a growing nation of immigrants and a representative democracy, the effect of these factions is far more devastating than anyone in the 18th century might have imagined. The political hype of insulated and homogeneous factions, fearful of change and so bent upon the advance of their own agenda that they forsake unity, the national good, and peace itself, is louder than ever. We are now faced with a momentous and pivotal decision point as a people and it is a moment in history foreseen and feared by our Founders. It’s a time when it is no longer about being collectively American, but rather about doggedly choosing our teams. I support my team, no matter what, and root for your team to lose, no matter what. This is particularly dangerous when one team is willing to repudiate our founding tenets, sacred ideals, and the sanctity of life itself, in favor of winning at any cost.

This frenzied and weaponized political hatred has manifested in targeted acts of violence against immigrants, members of the Muslim community, Jewish and Muslim houses of worship, Planned Parenthood centers, even upon individual members of Congress – anyone deemed to be on the other team. It is a path fraught with peril. Despite our hard-fought struggle to reconcile with the abject sins of Japanese internment camps and Jim Crow, we will remain vulnerable to committing such acts of atrocity unless we reject the dehumanization effects emboldened by a rejection of diversity, as well as the politics of division and factiousness. We must recognize the forces behind these evils and call them out. Forces we ourselves have enabled through isolation and echo chambers.

In the age of 24-hour partisan cable news and angry talk radio, it’s easy to retreat into our bubbles and to be more subtle about our penchant for exclusivity; as such allowing our self-perceived divisions to become ripe for exploitation. From inside our gated communities we tell ourselves we’re more comfortable and secure with people who share our religion, our sexual orientation, or our particular political persuasion.

Unsurprisingly, these divisions have served the powers that be very well over the years. And these powers have utilized these illusory divides as weapons against the very unity of our American community. It was never more evident than after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando. A number of pundits and politicians, with their own documented track record of anti-LGBTQ discrimination, attempted to “reach out” to the LGBTQ community with anti-Muslim messages, in an effort to destroy the fabric of unity which the two communities had built in the wake of the divisive 2016 presidential campaign.

Just after the shooting in June 2016, Steve Benen of reported: “There appears to be a push in Republican circles this week to exploit the bloodshed in Orlando to woo LGBT voters. The pitch, in effect, is ugly but straightforward: a Muslim killed 49 people in a gay nightclub; Republicans are anti-Muslim; therefore LGBT voters should support Republicans.” In effect, the LGBTQ Community should support the GOP and their anti-LGBTQ policies because… Muslims.

Fortunately, in this instance, no one has taken the bait. Unity and intersectionality between the Muslim and LGBTQ community remain present and strong. What’s more, there is a collective aha moment occurring among the overwhelming majority of Americans, across all spectrums. It’s a sea change and we’ve finally begun to figure it out. In their brazen attempt to exploit us, the dividers of the world are witnessing a massive backlash. In fact, historically estranged communities are banding together in solidarity as never before.

For example, after the Trump administration’s initial attempt at a Muslim ban, the very first condemnations out of the gate were by prominent Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations followed by the whole of the American Jewish community. Likewise, when Jewish community centers were receiving bomb threats, it was Muslim American veterans who vowed to guard Jewish holy sites across the United States. As one of those Muslim veterans, my initial instinct was to protect my neighbor, followed by a seething indignation at the thought that anyone should be targeted because of their faith. The seething indignations which many of us have suffered, in light of recent events, have now turned into a righteous indignation to change the course of our nation’s history. That history and our collective future now beckon the rise of a new generation of leaders. Diverse leaders committed to public service, advancing national unity and eschewing the politics of division.

In fact, Americans around the country are signing up to be a part of groups like Indivisible, and calls for unity and the words “We Are One” echo through social media. Diverse Americans from all walks of life, new to politics, weary of career politicians and backroom dealers, are starting grassroots political campaigns, not for want of power or greed, but because of our inherent belief that civil society can be changed through honorable and thereby courageous public service and that public service must be truly representative of the diversity of our society.

So, while our Founders and iconic leaders feared the day that bitter divisions would consume our political landscape, they also had a fundamental trust in the spirit of our people that we shall overcome, see through to a better day, continue to form a more perfect union, and in the end, pass on a truly United States of America to our future generations.


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