Commentary

Divided by Party, United in Spirit

For those who focus on politics, yesterday’s election appears to have only left us more divided. Certainly, voters seem split, not just along party lines, but also by race, religion, gender, and geography. Divisive language from both parties has started at the top and pervades every aspect of the political sphere. Hate-motivated violence is on the rise. It is very easy to believe that the country is falling apart.

Yet those divisions are not what America really is.

Take just one horrific example, the murderous rampage by a neo-Nazi at a Pittsburgh synagogue ten days ago. It’s hard to think of a more tragic manifestation of the hate currently infecting the political landscape.

Despite polarized election results, Americans agree on most important things.

Yet before we surrender to despair, we should also look at the response, the outpouring of support that followed. Across the country, Americans, regardless of their politics or religion, rushed to offer prayers and more-tangible types of support. More than $1 million was donated within a week to help the families of the victims. In testimony to interfaith unity, Pittsburgh’s small Muslim community contributed more than $120,000 in just three days. And tens of thousands of Christians, Muslims, and others joined Jews for a “Show Up for Shabbat” demonstration of solidarity. That’s the real America.

Or consider the story of John Chhan, a Cambodian refugee who fled to America 40 years ago and started a doughnut shop in Seal Beach, Calif. Chhan still runs that doughnut shop today, but recently his wife suffered an aneurysm, confining her to their home. So every day, his loyal customers and others in their community rush to buy out his entire supply of doughnuts so that he can get home to take care of her.

That’s America: an immigrant success story and a community rallying to help him.

Or consider the response to Hurricane Michael, which destroyed so much of the Florida panhandle and southwest Georgia late last month. Tens of millions of dollars have already been raised from private charities to help the victims. Beyond money, more than 11,000 volunteers pitched in to help. No one asked whether recipients were Democrats or Republicans, pro-Trump or part of the Resistance. They just stepped up to help those in need.

That is the real America, which is also reflected in our unrivaled generosity. Last year alone, Americans contributed more than $410 billion to charity. On top of that, and perhaps even more tellingly, more than 77 million Americans spent almost 7 billion hours volunteering to help their neighbors and others in need. Every day, Americans reach out across ideological and demographic lines to help.

That is far more reflective of America than the latest Internet meme.

Of course, there are serious issues that divide us. Those should be discussed and debated vigorously. They matter. But the partisans on both sides want us to believe that politics is everything. This belief, in fact, is part of what makes our politics so poisonous.

But the partisans are wrong. No matter how nasty our political disagreements have become, we should never lose sight of the fact that politics is not the heart and soul of America.

Last week, Major Brent Taylor, a Utah mayor and father of seven, on active duty with the U.S. military, was killed in Afghanistan. In his last message home, Major Taylor reminded us that “whether the Republicans or the Democrats win … we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us.”

Major Taylor was right.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and the author of Going for Broke: Deficits, Debt, and the Entitlement Crisis.