An image of a hand-written letter George H.W. Bush left in the Oval Office on January 1993 for Bill Clinton has gone viral (click on image to enlarge). The letter exemplifies a flurry of shared sentiments that seem to have sparked what I hope is an attitude shift in the American psyche. The letter exudes decency and good will. It personifies a rebirth of the American spirit that seemed to have died during this agonizing political season, this seventeen-month visitation from the depths of a toxic well that showed us the worst of humanity.
Lately, as I read even partisan essays that rail against the positions of various candidates, I see occasional evidence of a writer intentionally avoiding personal attacks. I think—I hope—the acidic vitriol the past year and a half may finally have caused us to seek a way out of the caustic soup in which we have been drowning. We require a radical shift in political discourse, I think, if civil society is ever to recover from its near-death experience. But political discourse is not the only aspect of our lives that must change; all interpersonal interactions must change so that society—that is, each of us—tolerates only respect and dignity and civility in our discussions and dialogue.
I do not have to agree with George H.W. Bush to acknowledge his generosity of spirit. And I need not accept the arguments made by Trump or Clinton or Johnson or Stein or McMullin or their supporters to accede they may have legitimate reasons to hold them. Let me be the first to admit that, heretofore, I have contributed to the fury and venom. But I hope I am one of millions who tire of the acrimonious words and behaviors plaguing this election season and who wish to put them behind us as we try to bridge the fissures dividing us. That task would be immeasurably harder if, perish the thought, Trump were elected. But even then, perhaps especially then, the need for decency must outweigh the desire for “revenge.”
George H.W. Bush wrote a letter that, in my view, exudes grace that’s not in any sense religious but, rather, deeply and wonderfully human. Let us all follow his example.