Marianne Williamson: America's Unity in Diversity | Opinion

When I was a child, politics was a regular conversation at family breakfasts on Sunday mornings. My parents were Democrats and my uncles were Republicans.

My uncles would say, "Kids, don't listen to your father or you'll never make any money."

My father would say, "Kids, don't listen to your uncles. They won't survive the revolution."

Then my mother would say, "So who wants white fish and who wants lox?"

It wasn't an angry, crazy, mean-spirited political environment then. It was simply breakfast. My uncles would say things like, "Sam, if you know what's good for you, you'll vote for Nixon." And my father would joke, "Hell no. I'm still voting for Roosevelt."

I was taught to argue with Republicans, but I wasn't taught not to love them. I was taught President Dwight Eisenhower's line that "the American mind at its best is both liberal and conservative." And even today I can see where that's true. The last thing we need is to be demonizing those with whom we share basic human values. There was a time when there were statesmen, and there was soul, in both major political parties. And we desperately need to get back to that.

There is a silver thread that has run through American history, and while this country can survive a lot of things, it will not survive the breaking of that thread. It's not that we're so good, or even the naïve belief that we have ever been; but it's an agreement among us that we ought to be good. That, at the very least, we are supposed to try. That our job is to create a society that gets better, not worse, over time.

There was a time in my lifetime when we thought we had reached a consensus, in fact, that political levees would block any seriously indecent forces from threatening us either from left or from right. We thought we had improved, that we had evolved past that. No racist, fascist, authoritarian element would be given a serious political megaphone by either major political party, because America was too good for that—or so we told ourselves. We thought that if and when such forces arose, voters and our abiding democratic institutions would flush them out. It didn't matter if you were liberal or conservative; on those things, we supposedly agreed.

Yet apparently we had not. Whatever such levees might have existed have now fallen, partly because of the power of social media and partly because of a president who actually legitimizes—indeed, in many ways embodies—those forces. The worst aspects of the American character have a platform today. And they have more than a platform. They have the political force that comes with it.

We can survive a tilt to the left and we can survive a tilt to the right; what we cannot survive, however, is a tilt into utter soullessness. Politicians who ought to know better now play cards with the devil on a regular basis. Small-time bigots of my childhood have spawned a new generation of hateful descendants who are now big-time threats to our democracy: racists, anti-Semites, Nazis, neo-fascists, homophobes—indeed, a new breed of American hatred that threatens the very core of our democratic foundations. We don't need a new coalition on the right, or a new coalition on the left, so much as we need what Martin Luther King Jr. called a "coalition of conscience." It isn't a left or right issue to treasure democracy itself.

People of conscience should not turn our anger against one another right now. We must strive to reclaim our political goodwill, seeking allies not just among those who agree with our politics but among all those who align with our basic devotion to human decency. No side of the political spectrum and no socio-economic group has a monopoly on values. There is a golden mean in American politics that all of us should aspire to: a place not where we necessarily agree, but where we wish one another well, assume the best about one another's intentions, and save our wrath for those who are the real problem: the voices of hate and bigotry that would tear this country down.

Neither major political party deserves self-congratulation at this point, so much as both could use some soul searching. Both have allowed corporate money to erode our political soul. Both have been willing to compromise its basic principles for the sake of money and power, and in doing so they have betrayed the country. One is almost held hostage by the forces of corporatism, and the other one enables them mightily. Lincoln's idea of a government "of the people, by the people and for the people" has become a quaint homage to a bygone era. What was intended to be an inter-generational devotion to the American ideal that anyone should be able to make it here, has been replaced by a cutthroat attitude that we didn't really mean that. The health and well-being of the American people is sacrificed regularly at the altar of short-term corporate profits, and no Democrat or Republican should be proud of their party's record on that.

The basic optimism of my youth—an era hardly devoid of tragedies in the form of assassinations and political upheaval, yet still redolent with a basic faith that, as Americans, we would get through it—has been replaced by a cold and cynical hollowing out of the American dream. That is where we are now, but it is not where we have to stay. Even now, in the midst of one of the darkest nights in American history, there are the portents of a political new dawn.

A Juneteenth Embrace
A protester gets a free hug from a man offering them at Foley Square during a Juneteenth rally in New York on June 19. Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty

In the midst of political chaos, there are indeed rays of hope. There's a pushing back against forces that now threaten our democracy, as many people simply aren't having it. Some aren't having it because we don't want to feel on the day we die that we let the bastards get to us. And some aren't having it because they have their entire lives in front of them, and they'll be damned if they'll let a soulless corporate authoritarianism steal their chance at the pursuit of happiness.

I say good for them. There's a new breed of American patriot now, created not by hatred of what is but by hope for what could be. And not by hatred for one another, but by goodwill and decency and love.

Whether we're on the left or on the right, whether we're young or old, no matter our color or our ethnicity or sex or sexuality or religion, each of us has an important piece of wisdom to contribute to the forging of a new United States. At a time when the forces of anger and separation are tearing us apart, we must get over the idea that someone has to agree with us, or be the same age as us, or look like us or love like us, to be one with us. Freedom means we don't have to agree with one another; and in a way, that's the point. "Unity in diversity" is the idea that we're many religions, ethnicities, cultures, etc., all unified in our fealty to certain first principles. That very idea is one of our most basic first principles, and today we're being challenged, as we have been before, to determine whether or not we really mean it.

I have as much to learn from memories of my uncles as from memories of my father. My uncles disagreed with my father's politics then, and I'm sure they would disagree with my politics today. But one thing I know for sure is that they would love me nevertheless, and I would still love them. It wasn't even conceivable then that our politics would divide us. We were united not just by the blood running through our veins but by ideals that ran through our souls. We were family, and we were even more than that. We were all Americans.

Marianne Williamson is a Newsweek columnist, best-selling author, political activist and spiritual thought leader. She is founder of Project Angel Food and co-founder of the Peace Alliance, and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary to make reparations a pillar of her campaign.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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