Another View: Scott reflects on partisanship, polarization in speech
I appreciate the values this school is working to instill in you: To show up, have personal integrity, challenge yourself, and show respect and kindness to others.
And those last two, respect and kindness, bring me to the topic I really want to talk with you about today.
Last week, I had the great honor of attending two memorial services in Washington, D.C., for Senator John McCain.
It was a busy time for me, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to attend, but I wanted to pay my respects to someone I've admired and looked up to for his courage, leadership, and his approach to putting the country, and "what's right", before himself and politics.
I'm so glad I did, the services were very inspiring. First, to sit in the immediate rows behind three former presidents was an incredible honor. And more importantly, getting to listen to what they had to say during the service, was even more inspiring.
Senator McCain had terminal brain cancer, and knew his days were limited, so he planned his own services, and specifically asked for President Bush and President Obama to speak, a Republican and a Democrat, both who had beaten the Senator in his runs for the presidency.
He was known for his bipartisanship, which shown through in the services, in many different ways.
What was echoed through each eulogy and what Senator McCain often said was: there's more that draws us together, than divides us.
Ultimately, I think it was Senator McCain's plan to bring everyone together in this way, and we should take this moment to reflect on what we can accomplish together rather than on what divides us.
In his farewell to the nation, he challenged us to recognize, and he reminded us of the exceptional capacity of American optimism saying, "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe."
I couldn't agree more.
As I've said many times over the last few years, I see political polarization and divisiveness as the greatest threat we face as a country.
The notion that consensus and compromise are unacceptable, that one party is always totally right, or all wrong, that we can't debate the issues and find common ground or, even when that's not possible, to agree to disagree, respectfully.
There have been other times in our history when how we treat each other has tested the strength of our core values. It's not related to any one party, or one candidate. Blaming one person, or one party, is a symptom of the problem, not a solution.
I worry that too many of us — on both sides of every issue — have given up on listening, deciding to no longer consider other opinions, viewpoints, or perspectives.
Insults, slurs and angry online exchanges between people who've never met are far too common.
People say things through social media, they'd never even think about saying face to face. "Experts" on cable news channels yell at each other, unwilling to acknowledge the point of view of others, much less learn from it, all to make a name for themselves.
These things are hurting our nation, our way of life, and it's time we address it.
Because you — our young people — need us to be better role models.
We, as adults, are setting a poor example. Instead, we must strive to be better human beings, we must teach our children through our actions, and with our own words, how to handle important, complex issues and policy debates, and how to treat people, especially when we disagree.
For example, words like "assault" and "attack" are frequently used around issues like budget choices or tax policy. These debates are described as "battles" with proposals that will "destroy" jobs, schools, our way of life, or America itself.
When a legitimate policy debate is characterized in the terms of violence and war, we immediately become defensive and further divided. The opportunity for real discussion, understanding, and compromise slips away, and frustrations grow, which deepens the divide, and the destructive cycle of polarization repeats and grows.
I also believe the way we talk to each other, the way we treat each other, and the rise of violence and hate are all connected.
Shamefully, we've seen recent incidents locally we all should find unacceptable. A camp for transracial families were subjected to racial slurs in Stowe. An African American legislator, Kiah Morris, chose not to run again because of slurs she and her family have endured. And a transgender candidate for Governor received death threats.
This is not, and cannot be, who we are. We must do better. And the solution isn't to fight hate with hate.
Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us only light can drive out darkness, and only love can drive out hate. To achieve the vision of justice and equality that inspired those wise words, we all have an obligation to act in our personal lives, and in our own back yards.
As many of you might know, John McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He spent 1,925 days in captivity. He was tortured and lived those five-and-a-half years enduring terrible treatment.
Yet, 25 years later, he didn't forget his experience, but was willing to forgive his captors for the good of our country to normalize relations with the Vietnamese.
If Senator McCain was able to do this after all his pain and suffering, certainly we can all find opportunities to do better.
What I have seen over the last year, particularly in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, is that your generation has great passion, which leads to influence. So, I wanted to share my hope that we come together, to restore civility and respect.
I believe that there are thousands of Vermonters, including many of you, who feel the way I do — who know we need to treat each other better, even when we disagree.
And that we must finally put an end to our dark history of bigotry and racism, replacing it with acceptance, and tolerance.
If we listen to, and learn from each other, if we rise above the polarization and treat each other with respect and kindness, a respect for all people and all points of view, and if we remember that our nation was founded on the fundamental view that everyone is created equal, we'll extinguish those lingering embers of hate and bigotry, and heal the corrosive divisions we're seeing because we'll deny them the fuel they need to grow.
That is the responsibility of all of us, and I appreciate your role in helping to make this happen.
As Senator McCain said, "Do not despair of our present difficulties, but believe, always, in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here."
Thank you, all, for listening.
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