A time to realize what unites us, and to abandon our reckless rhetoric

Flags are placed in front of more than 280,000 headstones of U.S. military personnel buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day, in Arlington, Va., on Thursday, May 26, 2022.
Anna Rose Layden
Flags are placed in front of more than 280,000 headstones of U.S. military personnel buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day, in Arlington, Va., on Thursday, May 26, 2022.

Memorial Day should be a moment of national unity. A time to honor the men and women of our Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice while defending the values, principles and traditions which have made our nation great. 

Yet, at this moment in this year, America is torn with more strife, more discord and more disunity than perhaps at any moment since at least 1968. 

That, of course, was the year of the bloody Tet Offensive during the war in Vietnam. It was the year of President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to not seek reelection and of the shocking, tragic assassinations of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King and U.S. senator and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy (D-N.Y.). Of cities burning during riots and demonstrations, and of street violence and chaos at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Of the hard-fought presidential campaigns of Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace, the segregationist former Democratic governor of Alabama who ran on the American Independent Party ticket.

That year, 1968, was the nadir of our modern experience, and America’s national fabric had not been torn again so badly — until now. 

Today, we are divided into separate camps on issue after issue, with virtually no middle ground or thought of compromise.

Some pro-abortion demonstrators have marched on the homes of Supreme Court justices who may decide in the next month to overturn Roe v. Wade. On the other side, some anti-abortion activists have demonstrated outside or attacked the clinics, offices and homes of abortion providers.

Mass shootings occur with shocking, frightening frequency in all corners of the country. In the wake of these, Democrats demand more gun control while Republicans insist that people, not guns, kill people.

Many cities are suffering dramatic increases in violent crime and attacks on police. In response, Democrats call for bail reform and restrictions on police; Republicans demand more cops and tougher judges.

Oil and energy prices, along with the prices of most other consumer commodities, are surging at rates not seen since the 1970s. Meanwhile, many Democrats are calling for the Green New Deal to be enacted, while most Republicans are demanding more oil exploration and pipelines.

On education, debates over critical race theory and gender fluidity seemingly predominate over schools’ emphasis on “the Three R’s.”

On race, many Democrats see systemic racism at work throughout our country’s institutions and systems, while many Republicans blame reverse bias for any lack of progress in race relations.

This listing of what divides us could go on ad infinitum (or ad nauseum). But what makes today’s divisions different from previous times is our seeming inability or unwillingness today to reach compromise in the halls of Congress, over the backyard fences in our neighborhoods, or even at the family dinner table. That, along with our inattention to what really matters: Much of our citizenry is more focused on, say, the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard courtroom spectacle than on the struggle to defend democracy in Ukraine. 

Social media unquestionably helps to foster the political silos and echo chambers that feed these divisions and distractions. And yet, polls continually show that voters claim they want Washington to come together while, at the same time, too many Americans assail those who seek compromise as “RINOs” (Republicans in name only) or as sell-outs to “the Democratic establishment.” 

It is time to pause during this Memorial Day, to take a breath and realize what unites us as Americans. To cease tearing away at our institutions, to put aside mindless rhetoric, and to begin an honest debate and a search for meaningful compromise on the issues that truly matter. Otherwise, the America that both sides claim to want will never be achievable — and the ideal of a united people risks coming to an end.

Peter King was the U.S. representative of New York’s 2nd and 3rd congressional districts for 28 years, including serving as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Follow him on Twitter @RepPeteKing.

Tags America divided Climate change Critical race theory energy prices Gun control. Mass shootings Lyndon Johnson Martin Luther King Memorial Day Peter King Politics of the United States Robert Kennedy Roe v Wade

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