How To Bridge America’s Divide

“It’s time to heal” does not mean that we brush the past under the rug.

Dr. Tyrone Grandison, the Co-Chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and political partner at the Truman National Security Project, has some thoughts about the calls for unity.

by Dr. Tyrone Grandison

America, and the world, stands at a crossroads with the elections of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Those who voted for the ticket are feeling relief, excitement, joy, and giddy happiness. Those who did not vote for the ticket are wrapped in disbelief, with many issuing threats, and making accusations of impropriety, election fraud, and election theft. 

As the days roll by, the incoming administration and the punditry will be calling to bridge the divide that has deepened between so many Americans over the past four years. At this time, it is our duty as citizens to be especially cautious, vigilant, mindful, and self-aware, but most importantly, it is our responsibility to hold those responsible for inciting the divide that has undermined our democracy under the Trump administration.  

I expect analysts and pundits to start rolling out well-worn tropes, such as “Let’s put this all behind us,” “Let’s come together,” “Let’s reach out to the other side,” “It’s time to heal,” “It’s time to unite.” But common sense tells us that compromising on xenophobia, white supremacy, racism, human rights violations and misogyny is never going to lead to a state that is beneficial for all. So clearly, bridging the divide cannot and should not mean compromising with ideologies that are at odds with the majority of Americans. I can only hope that the ticket and their advisory team recognize this. 

“Putting this behind us” does not mean that we absolve the actions, the broken laws and the malfeasance done by the previous administration in service to their executive. Taking this path in the past has not led to positive outcomes for the American masses. “Putting this behind us” does not mean that we immunize all the agents that caused harm and cruelty to others using the systems and resources of the American government. If the world used this logic, then millions of Jews would not have had justice meted out at the Nuremberg trials. “Putting this behind us” does not mean removing accountability for elected and appointed officials that enabled the state of America over the last four years. If this is the case, then we are saying that all public officials have blanket immunity for the crimes they commit in office. So, “putting this behind us,” in its most recent interpretations, is not the path to bridging the divide.

“Let’s come together” does not mean that the current purveyors of injustice get to keep their positions. “Let’s come together” does not mean that the systems that have been tainted, packed, and sabotaged by the Trump administration get to stand uncorrected. “Let’s come together” does not mean that the new Biden administration should be filled with members from the other side who stood by in complicit silence. “Let’s come together” does not mean trying to get abusers and their abused in the same room to chart a path forward without the abuser acknowledging the wrongdoings and committing to changing and to making restitution. So, the traditional interpretation of “let’s come together” is not the path to bridging the divide.

“Let’s reach out to the other side” only works when the other side shares the same value in the truth as you do. “Let’s reach out to the other side” only works when both sides are operating in the same vein of good faith. “Let’s reach out to the other side” only works both sides have the shared principles and values. So, “let’s reach out to the other side,” in its traditional sense, is not the path to bridging the divide.

“It’s time to heal” does not mean that we brush the past under the rug. That approach will likely keep our nation divided. “It’s time to heal” does not mean that we pretend that the last four years were an aberration, rather than the natural consequence of “healing rhetoric” without meaningful healing action. So, traditional ways of interpreting “it’s time to heal” is not the path to bridging the divide.

“Let’s reach out to the other side” only works when the other side shares the same value in the truth as you do.

“It’s time to unite” depends on all involved being ready and willing to have an honest and fact-based discussion of the activities that led to our current state. “It’s time to unite” is premised on no community hating another community solely for their existence. “It’s time to unite” depends on everyone critically thinking about the best outcome for the greater collective. Unfortunately, a lot of these pre-conditions cannot currently be met in the American context.  So, “it’s time to unite” is probably not the path to bridging the divide. 

So, what does, and should, “bridging the divide” look like? 

In a nutshell, it means recognition, inclusion, and systemic reform.

“Bridging the divide” starts with recognizing that the original sins of the American experiment (Native American Indian genocide and slavery) need to be taught, discussed, and highlighted in an objective and factual manner. This recognition creates a baseline, with the same truths, and singing from the same hymn book. This recognition is not only a great reset, but also an acknowledgement of the harm done and a cautionary tale never to be repeated. Without this step, American democracy may go through similar devastating political shifts in the future. 

“Bridging the divide” also starts with recognizing that we are all mammals and that all other labels are irrelevant and misleading. As mammals, there is no US versus THEM. As mammals, there is no disconnection from the rest of the living things on the planet. As mammals, there is urgency to save our community and our planet.

“Bridging the divide” accelerates when the right leaders, from diverse backgrounds and communities, are put in place. It accelerates when leaders have the lived experiences of the problems that their organization is tasked with fixing. Solutions become more targeted, more relevant, and have a higher chance of success when these leaders are in place. “Bridging the divide” needs community members that intimately know the problem to be solved as both staffers and leaders.  

“Bridging the divide” requires reforming systems and policies so that they incentivize fairness, equity, opportunity, sovereignty, decency, and goodness for all. Ensuring that organizations and leaders make this reform their first and primary priority will ensure that the nation that we have all dreamed about is accessible for future generations.  A strategy for changing the hearts and minds of people depends heavily on each person’s background, experience, critical thinking skills, and willingness to evolve. A strategy of changing systems and policies creates the parameters of the world we want to live in and motivates good behavior.

“Bridging the divide” means taking meaningful steps in caring for the most vulnerable in your society. It means translating the love for native American Indian voters, the love for Black voters, the love for poor White voters, the love for LGBTQ+ voters into a love for THEM, their families, and their lives.

Dr. Tyrone Grandison is the Co-Chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and a political partner at the Truman National Security Project. He works at the intersection of technology, data, and social good. He has spent the last two decades developing and deploying data-driven, impact-focused, people-centered products and services that improve the lives of under-represented, and often ignored, communities. Follow him on Twitter at @tyrgr.

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