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  • Reverend James Squire

Presidents Day and a Fish Tank

When I was taking a course at St. George’s College in Jerusalem, I had an eye-opening experience that I have never forgotten. One night the college had a spokesperson from the Palestinians speak about the history of the Palestinians and how they got to where they were today. It was filled with data and facts underscoring the Palestinian position. The next night we had the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem give the history of the Jewish people from biblical days to the current up to date history. It was like watching and listening to two very different movies. How could they agree on peace making issues if they couldn’t agree on their mutual history.

When I was a child and an election was just around the corner, I asked my parents what we were. They said very proudly “We are Republicans.” When I asked them what a Republican was, they couldn’t answer that basic question except to say, “That is what we have always been!” My parents always said that I asked “why” about everything. I was not a very political person through most of my life. I wasn’t even aware that we were working class until I got to Yale. When you are a fish in water, you can’t imagine life outside of it. That was me. As naïve as it sounds, I wasn’t even aware of our struggle as a family. I thought that everyone was like that. However, at Berkeley at Yale, I waited on tables with a starched white coat because I needed money for the bare essentials. I was waiting on people who were affluent. I couldn’t identify with my fellow students who were protesting the war in Vietnam and racism who depended on their parents’ money to finance their efforts. A simple phone, and their needs were met. If asked, I suppose I would have identified as a conservative because that was all that I knew. When I received even more education and started a position in Swarthmore, the home of the most liberal small college in America, I understood things differently through additional exposure to ideas and would respond to that question about political identity that I was a liberal. Now I find myself right in the middle. That was an informed CHOICE on my part.

Today Ron DeSantis is speaking to the police union in Chicago which is a Democratic town, always was and always will be. That’s the water in which they live. When the Democratic candidates knew that the police union supported Paul Vallas, our one-time superintendent of schools in Philly, Vallas was forced to launch into a rant against DeSantis as a right-wing Republican racist. It dawned on me, in that moment of all places, that we are a nation that loves labels because we are “like fish who can’t imagine anything beyond the water in which we are living.”

We have become like Palestine and Israel who can’t agree on their history therefore can’t agree on how healing will occur. They are good at using labels to demean each other.

We all know on this Presidents’ Day that Lincoln was a Republican. Did he have the same views as DeSantis? Probably not! Just as my political orientation has changed during my life, I think that others, like my parents, are fixed on their identify in terms that they can’t define. They are like the fish in the water of Republicans.

It took education and experience of “the other” that changed me as a fish in my political water. Like Israelis and Palestinians, they don’t know each other’s history or what it means to be identified as one or the other. They have lost their definitions of terms.

I would say that one of the roles of the President should be to identify important labels that are dividing our country to counter knee jerk reactions such as what DeSantis will experience in Chicago. It is not enough to say, “I am against Maga.” He could leave his water and say something that Democrats would love and still his label as a bigot would stick. The only way to get fish out of water is with a net. You can put them back in with a net if they still want to swim in that same water, but it should be an informed decision. Here is my elitism comment. Many Americans don’t read and don’t reflect. Their chief source of news is in various propaganda news stations. It is easier to listen than to read.

My proposal would be for the President to work with Congress to define what it means to be a left winger, right winger, Maga, Democrat, Republican, and those in the middle. Let’s broadcast what each believes and see if it is consistent with what people believe who describe themselves with those terms. The water that they need to be in is to disagree with ideas but not to attack the person such as DeSantis and his visit to Chicago. In group dynamics once you label something people tend to stop the behavior. I believe the job of the President and Congress is to educate people first in Washington regarding what it means to adhere to these labels. That discussion, in and of itself, would be a start to healing our nation or we will continue with division and forget what we believe and why. We should honor and know our differences. Look no further than the Middle East for what happens when you don’t.

Division is brought about by the attitude of my parents. We are Republicans! Why? Because that’s how we have always voted! What do you believe? I don’t know! “I don’t know and I don’t care” is a phrase that is at the heart of division. If you don’t change the water in a fish tank, the fish perish!

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