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What is it going to take to put America back together again and give us the good parts of the ’50s and ’60s without the racism, unionism, warfare and denial of responsibility that were rampant? Can we learn to live with our different versions of politics and society without trying to choke others to death with them? Can we modify or add to the two-party black-or-white system that has clearly contributed to our present situation? How do we correct and moderate two parties, one that wants it all for themselves and the other that wants to give everything away, even to the undeserving? Neither, it seems, takes any responsibility for their actions.

In my life I have observed the wrongs from both the liberal and conservative sides and rarely a right from either. I grew up in the white suburbs; other races lived along the river. I saw the results of the Watts riots firsthand (1967). I watched from a distance as the National Guard executed four students at Kent State University for protesting the war (1970). I was there when Los Angeles police beat Rodney King to a pulp for a traffic violation (1991). I witnessed the birth of political tribalism in the ’90s, often called the decade that has not yet ended. One party became good and the other bad, depending on your views, and I began my transition to being neither. Presidents lied to the people; Nixon with Watergate (1974), Clinton and his “affair” (1998) and Bush in error, starting a personal war (2003). Then came the social demonstrations of 2010-2019 that many times involved destruction of private property and life, never excusable under any political framework or ideology. The Constitution protects only the right to a peaceful protest.

During all that time the insidious disease of affluenza (wealth is always right and privileged) was spreading in one party and self-serving indignation in the other; both fueled by the inability to differentiate between want and need. Wants were elevated to the status of necessities and needs only considered when one party complained about how the other was preventing it from fulfilling its needs. Greed flourished, banks were deregulated, unions were coddled, inefficient second-class industry was bailed out of bankruptcy and finally one side, the one that had been receiving most of self-awarded benefits, decided to take law into its own hands and invaded our Capitol (2021) to reverse what they saw as a rigged election. The continuation of political tribalism.

So, we continue today with no changes. One party is sure that wealth and race result in proper morals and correct decisions and the other sure that you can correct any issue by throwing enough money at it, even if by doing so you violate ethics and promises. One has social issues as its overreaching priority, the other is more concerned with amassing wealth and power to the detriment of any other American.

Where is the common ground, the starting point for discussion about the “American way”? Do we have an honest statesman, not politician, who can lead us through the turmoil knowing that one or the other of the parties will call him or her every name in the book if they don’t get their childish ways? Should we risk the small recovery we have attained and return to the fear, hate and misogyny of the right or hope our economy/nation can survive the financial irresponsibility of the left?

Or can we come together not as blue or red, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, but as Americans?

Hope so! We must if America is to survive!

Ned Sheats lives in Mission.