America Needs a Couples Counselor
I was talking with a friend about the institution of marriage — why some marriages last and others don’t. We agreed that for a marriage to last, both partners must, first and foremost, be committed to the institution itself; because on any given day they may not agree on the same ideas or course of action, not to mention that feelings can ebb and flow, life can present challenges, etc. And we agreed that key in marriage is trust, which is largely borne out of a commitment to a shared sense of truth.
That got me thinking about the coming 4th of July, which will be America’s 246th anniversary — perilously close to 250 which is important because in Sir John Glubb’s famous treatise “The Fate of Empires,” he was the first to propound empires never last more than 250 years. A sobering concept.
Fortunately, along came the idea of “American Exceptionalism,” which maintained that this grand experiment called America is an exception to the 250-year empire lifespan. This was put forth by notables like Mitt Romney as well as Vice President Dick Cheney in his book, Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America.
Later, in President Barack Obama’s famous speech delivered at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, he morphed the meaning of “exceptionalism” not to mean “better,” but what Obama saw as exceptional were the changes that took place in America instigated by ordinary citizens — how otherwise unexceptional people brought about exceptional transformation.
We Americans passionately celebrate our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain along with our beliefs, our values, and our loftiest aspirations: like liberty, equality, and the right of every person to pursue happiness. All of which came out of the Declaration of Independence.
For most of us, these American ideals are at the core of our sense of patriotism and national identity. But because our country is composed of so many different cultures, so many ways of expressing individualism, and because there’s such an enormous chasm between haves and have-nots, it’s hard to stay connected to a shared sense of identity. And so, we’ve had to rely on ideals in order to hold ourselves together and to think of ourselves as a single people.
Which brings me back to this idea that our divided country desperately needs couples counseling if we’re going to make it to our 250th anniversary — and beyond.
What might America’s counseling look like? Certainly, it would establish ground rules for acceptable discourse. A way for all involved in the relationship to feel heard and seen. To build trust. To forgive past sins. And perhaps we need a reminder of what brought us together in the first place.
So as our cherished 4th of July parade moves through Montecito and we wave American flags and celebrate our incredible country, I’ll be thinking about how we could change the nature of today’s political debate by fighting unreason with reason. How we must commit to debating ideas rooted in facts and truth. And how we need to be civil to one another as we work our way through this. Because as anyone who’s ever been in a relationship knows, the outcome of a conflict depends less on what you disagree than on how you disagree.
Last year I heard a political campaign ad that inspired me immensely. It went like this:
“I’m Spencer Cox, your Republican candidate for Utah Governor.”
“And I’m Chris Peterson, your Democratic candidate for Governor.”
Cox: “We are currently in the final days of campaigning against each other.”
Peterson: “But our common values transcend our political differences and the strength of our nation rests on our ability to see that.”
Cox: “We are both equally dedicated to the American values of democracy, liberty, and justice for all people.”
Peterson: “We just have different opinions on how to achieve those ideals.”
Cox: “But today we are setting aside those differences to deliver a message that is critical for the health of our nation.”
Peterson: “That whether you vote by mail or in person, we will fully support the results of the upcoming presidential election, regardless of the outcome.”
Cox: “Although we sit on different sides of the aisle, we are both committed to American stability and a peaceful transition of power.”
Peterson: “We hope Utah will be an example for the nation.”
Cox: “Because that is what our country is built on.”
Peterson: “Please stand with us on behalf of our great state and nation.”
Cox: “My name is Spencer Cox.”
Peterson: “And I’m Chris Peterson.”
Cox and Peterson: “And we approve this message.”
And my name is Gwyn Lurie, and I approve that message.
Happy 4th of July!