By Don Mohler
In November 2010, Baltimore County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz was elected as the 12th Executive in County history. There was only one month until he would be sworn into office. And while serving as Baltimore County Executive is certainly not analogous to being elected President of the United States, the County is larger in population than four states, comprised of 200,000 more people than neighboring Baltimore City. It is not some mom and pop operation, and what transpired on that November morning provides a valuable lesson. Or at least it should.
I was honored to be serving as outgoing County Executive Jim Smith’s Chief of Staff at that time, and the morning after the election he called me into his office. His message was clear and unambiguous: He told me that he knew the next month was going to be stressful for me and our staff. He knew that it would feel as if we had to serve two different bosses for 30 days. He said, “Don, I don’t want you to give it a second thought. We’ve had eight great years, and now you need to take care of Kevin. Make sure you let the staff know that as well. Tell them I appreciate all that they’ve done, but it’s his time. He’s your priority now.”
You see Jim Smith got it. He knew it wasn’t about him. He knew it was about Baltimore County. He knew that he was the leader of the band, and he wanted to make sure that he took care of the band one last time.
Regardless of your political tendencies, what has transpired for the past month is not only abnormal, it is dangerous. Because of the current president’s attacks on election integrity and his refusal to even try to unite a nation since the day he was elected, we are indeed divided. More than 70% of his voters believe the election was stolen. In 2016, Donald Trump said that if he lost to Hillary Clinton, it would be because the election was rigged. For months he went on and on about how mail-in ballots were fraudulent ballots. Forget the fact that numerous states had been voting by mail for years without incident. That was a fact, and facts just don’t matter in Trump World. He told us that once the clock struck midnight on Election Day no other votes should be counted, even if those votes had arrived days before. I think of this as the Cinderella Strategy. Despite losing by 6 million votes, he continues to tweet in all caps, “I WON. LANDSLIDE.” This is indeed Crazyland and unprecedented in American history. The fact that Republican lawmakers are playing along to humor the Emperor rather than telling him that he has no clothes tends to make us all despondent. Who knew that 280 characters could paralyze an entire political party?
But, and this is a big “But.”
Here’s the reality: we will get to January 20. The year 2020 will finally be in the rear view mirror, and we will have a new president. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find out that we aren’t as divided as we tend to think. How can that be you ask?
This condition of wellbeing often gets lost in all of the cable wars: we’ve been yelling at each other for so long now that we forget that on most of the major issues of the day, the American public has an amazing unity of thought. It is easy to identify many of the issues that are front and center: health care, guns, climate change, immigration reform, LGBTQ protections and a woman’s right to choose. Limited to Facebook and Twitter one would think that we are miles apart on these key issues of the day. And a visit to Parler, Newsmax and OANN makes it even worse. If that is where we spend our time, then we must all live in parallel universes. But that is simply not true, and perhaps Uncle Joe, or as we now refer to him, the President-elect has just the right temperament to help us discover a new reality.
Is expanding health care complicated? Yes it is, but there is strong support across the country for taking a different approach. We need to get out of the weeds and focus on how to make this journey. The public is clear that our current health care approach is not working: 63% of the nation believe that government has a responsibility to provide health care for all. Years ago when running for Mayor of Baltimore, Martin O’Malley famously uttered these words: “There is more that unites us than divides us.” On health care, his words could not ring more true.
The gun numbers are even more jarring: 89% of the American public support increased mental health funding; 83% support background checks even with private gun sales; 72% support red flag laws; 61% support banning high capacity magazines; and even 57% support an assault weapons ban.
Climate change? 65% say that the federal government is not doing enough to address this existential crisis. Immigration reform? The Gallup organization states that, “Americans have never felt warmer toward immigrants, nor have they ever been more supportive of immigration.” On the protection of the LGBTQ community, 69% of Americans support “broad nondiscrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.”
Admittedly, the most difficult of the issues that are front and center is a woman’s right to choose. It is a matter of deep faith for many people, and it would behoove all of us to remember that. But even on this issue the country is more united that we might think. Nearly three quarters of the nation want to preserve Roe v. Wade, but a majority also wants to see some restrictions on those rights. That doesn’t make “Kumbaya” any easier, but it also does mean there is room for dialogue. Barbara Carvalho, Director of the Marist Poll, describes it this way: “What it speaks to is the fact that the debate is dominated by the extreme positions on both sides. People do see the issue as very complicated, very complex. Their positions don’t fall along one side or the other. The debate is about extremes, and that is not where the public is.”
You get the picture. On the major issues of the day, the public is way ahead of its elected officials. The crazies eating Cheetos in their basements while talking about leaders as flesh eating pedophiles are loud, but they do not represent the heart and soul of who we are as a nation.
Joe Biden won in part because people were just tired. They didn’t want to be screaming at their neighbors, relatives, and televisions every single day. They didn’t want to believe that “WE” were the enemy. On the campaign trail, the President- elect repeatedly called upon us to harken back to another era, that famous Tip O’Neill/Ronald Reagan era where we fight like hell during the day but where “we are all friends after six.” President Biden remembers those days, and he wants us to remember them as well. In his Thanksgiving address, the President-elect reminded us that, “We don’t talk much about love in our politics. The political arena is too loud, too angry, too heated. To love our neighbor as ourselves is a radical act. And it is what we are called to do. We must try.”
So if we actually agree on important issues, then perhaps with some hard work, we can actually change the tone and make Washington work again. President Biden’s ability to lead our caravan in that direction will determine our destiny for years to come.
Don Mohler is the former Baltimore County Executive. He may be reached at email@example.com
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