No better outcome could wrap up a nationwide road trip than an agreement that, as POTUS traditionally reports during the annual State of the Union Address, “the state of our union is strong.” One learns during a C-SPAN Book TV video recorded on Aug. 10, 2020, that the co-authors of Union: A Democrat, A Republican, and the Search for Common Ground did come away from their travels with this hope for resilient bonds of citizenship and solidarity.
However, Jordan Blashek and Christopher Haugh retained many of the differences that made them the political opposites who met in school some years ago, before they planned their car journeys into the heart of darkness–exploring social polarization in America’s public square.
There seems to be more room than ever for differences and doubts in the days since their book’s completion and their interview with California politician Tony Woods (sponsored by Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena). The insights of Blashek, an optimistic Republican, and Haugh, a skeptical Democrat, remain worthy of attention. Perhaps the discovery of hope has become even more urgent as a mission for all of us since the country’s immersion in civil unrest and the perpetual addition of contentious details to the presidential campaign of 2020.
What struck me when I recently viewed this video was Blashek’s response to a question from Woods (in the center of the screen) about the co-authors’ Election Day expectations in light of their road-trip experiences of 2015-2019. His choice of words in August may not hold significance as a foreshadowing of more recent reports–details of electoral strategies that could generate a thicker web of contention. Some pundits have predicted the November 3 election could end without a clear victor, leaving Americans in a cauldron of angst, anger, and argument for days or weeks–or longer than that.
Blashek said, “My advice to the country based on the book” would be to accept a few months of divisiveness leading up to Election Day but to continue the citizenry’s traditional commitment to bounce back into a state of union–to “move into November 4 with an attitude of reconciliation.”
That is a day for “coming back to the table” because Americans must continue to discuss and solve the nation’s problems, Blashek explained. “We’re still one country, we’re still one people.”
It is true that, more often than not, November 4 has been a remarkable day for healing partisan wounds. But it is chilling to realize that this date is now known as a time when the machinery of voting can falter and the emotions of resentment and fear can spill over among people who feel ignored or manipulated.
As an optimist myself, I know the spirit of reconciliation and compromise is still alive in this country. But our journeys into the heart of darkness must allow for an emergent “new normal” and a possible need for new routes toward union.
I was glad that the Book TV interview didn’t conclude until the skeptical traveler Haugh offered a less conventional answer to the same Election Day question. He said the applicable metaphor for the milestone we face may be New Orleans. That city “has built a culture specifically on bringing together other cultures,” often in the wake of “difficult histories” of dispute and suffering. rather than automatic, predictable procedures.
Haugh’s hope was still resilient, just different. He observed that New Orleans succeeded in establishing solidarity out of polarization by tapping into a wide array of roots. This place of “common ground” has energized remarkable creativity “through means like music and art and getting together and food–and building hybrid cultures that are uniquely American.” The two authors might be previewing a new state of the union that, despite our political divisions, will be strong for the challenging journeys ahead.