The United States has suffered a grave malady over the last 20 years or so.

I will call it “a hardening of the categories.” This most recent election gives us a clear illustration of what exactly I reference.

The Republicans threw stones at the Democrats calling them socialists, communists, left leaning, leftist, anarchists, rioters and looters, all wanting to defund the local law enforcement.

Trump added to those dog whistles by denigrating immigrants, Mexicans, journalists (or, as he liked to call them, “fake media”) and on and on.

On the other side, the stones were intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-immigrant and on and on.

I see this and understand it because, in my faith tradition, I watched as we splintered into groups and threw stones at each other.

I remember attending a national convention at the height of the Southern Baptist Convention’s uncivil war and wearing a badge I made myself saying, “I am a liberal conservative who is moderately fundamental.”

I thought it was a light take on the battle tearing our convention apart. Few agreed, and I remember seeing more frowns toward me than usual.

There are several issues with this smoldering development in our national fabric.

First, it flies in the face of the very way our nation and states are organized.

No other government of which I am aware gives such opportunity for all opinions on any subject to be represented. It is the reason why we have 435 members in the House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate.

The very genius of our system is that everyone has representation in the people’s Congress. That is why it is vital for Congress to remember their place and purpose.

At its best, Congress is representative of the diverse philosophies, religions, economic theories and social policies that make up the people of this nation.

It is troubling that we imply or even suggest that someone who holds a different view from us has no room at the table.

It is wrongheaded to believe that the liberal, moderate, conservative, economic free marketer, socialist and other perspectives do not have a place in the people’s Congress.

The genius for such a way of governing is negotiation and compromise. It is a good day when no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something.

The Tea Party movement injected a rigid perspective to such a degree that no compromise was possible. It was “our way or the highway,” which was the beginning of the congressional stalemate.

No one has been willing to compromise, no one willing to budge, no one willing to give in order to get.

So, we have slowly become a government of deadlock, gridlock and stalemate. One can only wonder, “How is that working for us?” The simple answer, “It is not.”

At one point in my pastoral ministry, I had the difficult task of leading an encampment board to adopt a new constitution and negotiating a compromise between two girls-only camps who felt the other was encroaching and stepping on toes.

I still remember us sitting down and working around priorities and compromise. I believe that is how governance at its best is done.

Liberals and Democrats are not curse words. Conservatives and Republicans are not obscenities. Rather, they are reflective of how we group ourselves, prioritize our concerns and elect men and women to represent us in state and national government.

We should implore our leadership, our elected representatives, to remember and fulfill their duty to ensure that due consideration is given to everyone’s concerns and needs.

There are 331 million of us across this great country. As my pastor has reminded our congregation again and again, we come from “every nation, tribe, people and language, and once here, we are all Americans.”

We need to see each other again. To do so, we must lay aside our divisive slogans and chants. Such “seeing” does not diminish us; it strengthens us.

We need to return to the noble art of compromise. We need to respect the perspectives of others. We need to expand the number of people who get a say in national affairs.

I have come to realize at this ripe old age of “being old” that three groups historically have been excluded at the tables of power and negotiation: Native Americans, African Americans and women. It is time to change that.

Wash your hands, wear your mask for others, mind the gap and be kind.

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