I spent election night at home with my family watching the newest version of Robin Hood. Like many people, I’m interested in the outcome of the election but weary of “sound bite” politics. I am not of the school that thinks all politicians are bad or even that political campaigns are worse than they used to be. Politics have always been rough in the United States, although inane television ads have added a new dimension over the past 50 years.
My concern is more with the issue of what happens after the election when leaders must confront the hard issues of governance in communities, states, and a nation about evenly divided on the subject of what constitutes the best choices for society, security, and the economy. I think the first thing we should do is remind ourselves of where we are. The political process inevitably leads to forecasts of doom, criticism, and unflattering comparisons while disregarding some obvious, positive truths.
The United States remains one of the healthiest, wealthiest, best educated, and most powerful nations in the world by almost any measure. Our relatively low ranking on some indicators has more to do with the small size of those we are compared to than any decline in actual conditions in the United States. We live in a great place which may explain why one of our chronic problems is accepting the number of people who want to move here from other places.
Acknowledging that things are not as bad as some may claim does not mean that we have no problems. Our strength has always been confronting and overcoming challenges rather than ignoring them. I also believe that our greatest leaders have been people who were willing to pay a political price in return for doing what was best for the people they represented. I have always admired George Washington for walking away from power at a time when he could have easily chosen to accumulate more. I have seen many elected officials follow this example during my career, and I’ve seen others take a difficult stand knowing it could cost them their position. Oregon recently lost a great local leader, in my opinion, because she chose to do what she believed was right rather than what she believed to be popular. The democratic political process does not always reward courage, and it’s probably appropriate that it doesn’t. I am grateful, however, for those who care more for the future of their communities and their country than they do for their position.
Working around the developing world has helped me appreciate the value and importance of recognizing your strengths as you confront your weaknesses. Our greatest strength will always be the character, skills, and talents of our people. Allowing ourselves to become cynical, hopeless, angry, and blind to what is good works against the collaboration and compromise needed to solve problems and get things done.