After receiving a number of letters from readers responding to last week’s column, which was about keeping the family together despite all the political tumult, one word came to mind: unity.
It’s been difficult to watch how divisive our country has become during the most contentious presidential election since Rutherford B. Hayes battled Samuel Tilden for the Oval Office in 1876.
I cringed when I watched my children experience snippets of President Trump and Joe Biden trade insults during their debates. Civility has disappeared. It wasn’t that long ago when gentlemen stumped for the commander-in-chief post. Check out John McCain actually defending Barack Obama when they battled for the presidency in 2008. It’s a must-view since it marked the end of an era. Much has unfortunately changed over recent years.
And then there was the tension of election night, which has spilled over in a presidential contest, that was undecided after Election Day. Civility is history. It reminds me of an election night party I attended in 2004 courtesy of “The Daily Show.” Multiple screens were set up as we witnessed the George W. Bush/John Kerry battle. Fox and CNN had very different results throughout the evening.
When I flipped around Tuesday night, it was an evening of contrasting views and one verbal attack after another, which is so familiar, we’re desensitized to it.
President Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself can’t stand.” We as a country can’t move forward unless we do so in unison. In the confusing and disturbing aftermath of the presidential election, I spoke with my children about the significance of unity and when I most felt the power of a country that was in lock step.
I’ll never forget President Jimmy Carter addressing the nation after 52 American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran 41 years ago last Wednesday. Carter expressed that America was suffering a crisis of confidence, which was accurate.
As an elementary school student, I was shaken, but my parents explained to me that somehow the country would make it through this period together. My parents who were from the Depression era. Their experiences that were passed on to me were invaluable.
At the time, my mom and dad stood out since most of my friends’ parents were 20 years younger than my mom and dad. My best friend’s mother saw the Beatles in 1964! My dad was already in his 40s by the time of the British Invasion.
My father turned 18 just before Pearl Harbor was bombed and spent nearly four years abroad during World War II. However, my dad explained how the Greatest Generation overcame incomprehensible obstacles. He spoke of the unity in his troop when they were in the mess hall, a fox hole and invading Southern France for Operation Dragoon.
My dad is an anomaly among World War II veterans since he detailed his experiences. My dad delivered the gory details just as the 1980 Olympics commenced. I listened to him and watched flu-ridden as the greatest miracle in the history of American sports transpired in tiny Lake Placid, New York. The U.S. hockey team, comprised of a bunch of college kids, shocked the mighty Soviet team. Americans shouted “USA” in unison.
It was more than a sporting event, but we started to coalesce. I remember what it was like when my older son Eddie played a game at the 1980 rink in Lake Placid a generation later, and I started to tear up after he scored the first goal of the game in that iconic arena. That was partly due to my Olympic memories and also courtesy of how much we were gouged to play a tournament on a legendary sheet of ice.
I also felt that type of unity after the 9/11 tragedy. I was on vacation on the coast of the Outer Banks when the shocking acts of terrorism occurred. Since I declared a moratorium on news, my family almost missed the top story of the first decade of the century.
A few days later, I was in New York meeting with my editor at Playboy, and I can still see the smoke emanating from where the World Trade Center stood and the fliers on telephone poles with photos of loved ones who were missing.
But I recall how normalcy crept back via entertainment. Nearly two weeks after the World Trade Center disaster, comic Gilbert Gottfried dared to joke about it in Manhattan. “I have to leave early tonight, I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight. They said I have to stop at the Empire State Building first.”
Almost every year, I interview the diminutive comic, and each time I ask him to repeat that historic bit. Some people booed Gottfried, some people laughed, but we were all coming out of it. The week after Gottfried’s joke, there was a telethon featuring some of the heaviest hitters in music. Tom Petty kicked off the benefit for the families, who lost loved ones during 9/11, aptly with “I Won’t Back Down.”
The following month, I attended Game 3 of the 2001 World Series as the New York Yankees hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks. I recall boarding a boat from New Jersey with other baseball fans traveling down the Hudson River and up the East River en route to Yankee Stadium. More than a month after the Twin Towers were toppled, the debris was still smoking. Fans quietly stared at the site as our vessel was flanked by NYPD tugboats.
No matter how anyone in the Bronx felt that night about President Bush, America’s Roman Coliseum, may it rest in peace, shook in unison as Dubya fired a strike.
“USA, USA, USA,” the Bombers faithful chanted as Bush waved to the crowd while posing for a photo with Yankee manager Joe Torre and Diamondbacks skipper Bob Brenly. There is no team more despised in the world of sports than the Yankees, but in 2001 even my friends, who were diehard Red Sox fans, supported their once-beloved Red Sox hurler Roger Clemens even though he was clad in pinstripes.
It was if Osama bin Laden owned a piece of the Diamondbacks. The upstart franchise was the enemy. We all joined together not just in the greatest melting pot in the world, New York, but throughout the country.
Hopefully, after enduring such a great divide, America can join together. Unity starts at home. It’s time to support everyone in our family units. Life is difficult enough, we need to get behind one another even if we clash over issues. Look back at the example the aforementioned McCain set while he accomplished so much while making deals across the aisle.
When the final pages of our last chapter are written, no one is going to be reminiscing about Donald Trump or Joe Biden. It will be the time to clasp hands, look our loved ones in the eye and bask in the wonderful memories. Right now, it’s about the ties that bind and to remember that in order to move forward through the coronavirus, we have to do it as one.
“We all do better when we work together,” President Bill Clinton said. “Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.”
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