"There is only one thing worse then fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them," said British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965), during the throes of World War II.
It is as clear in my mind as yesterday how quickly many divides and gaps in the American culture and psyche narrowed, tightened or closed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Fortunately, that tragedy did not occur against the backdrop of a Presidential Election year. If anything, it caused much of the nation to forget how close and controversial the result of the 2000 election was between then-Texas Governor George W. Bush and sitting Vice-President Al Gore of Tennessee. I was in Washington covering that January 20, 2001, Bush Inauguration, and you could cut the tension between the respective Bush and Gore camps and clans, sitting together on that Capitol grandstand with a knife.
How soon we can, as a nation forget. As later President Bush stood amongst the rubble of the World Trade Center Towers at Ground Zero, to inspect the damage as well as recognize and spotlight the ongoing heroic work of first responders, his approval ratings soared into the low 90 percentiles. Days after the attacks, on the steps of our U.S. Capitol building, Congress gathered for remarks of resilience and then broke, impromptu and without planning into an off-key but emotionally searing rendition of 'God Bless America.' Flying in and out of near-empty airports on jets which on a couple of occasions gave me my own private flight crew, America seemed to be looking beyond many divisions, the major and the minor, towards unifying as one people against our common, as yet unknown enemy.
We do know this time, that our enemy is an invisible, insidious and easily transmitted virus, but it also appears that many are willing to extend this battle as an overlay or reflection of this presidential contest, down to local races for school board and county commission. I will echo Mr. Churchill, if we are not our own allies, who can we look to? Our greatest trade partner, China, may have played some role in this pandemic, either in misinformation or something viler and more like a James Bond movie. Our relationships with many of our strongest G-7 allies have been tattered by new trade agreements, withdrawal from other treaties and climate accords, and generally harsh statements offered on all occasions except when meeting in person and face to face.
And yet, it is our own divisions, wobbling economy and efforts to turn almost on each other which give me much more pause and concern than this virus or the new killer Asian hornet which has also recently made landfall in Seattle, most likely onboard a cruise or cargo vessel from Asia. During WWI and WWII, the first Persian Gulf War, and later 9/11, Americans were able to put aside our differences in the main and attack these battles and common enemies together.
As that same former President George W. Bush reminded us recently and eloquently, public health is NOT a partisan issue. In a video call for unity, released on May 2, the younger Bush president said, "In the final analysis, we are not partisan combatants, we are human beings, equally vulnerable and equally wonderful in the sight of God. We rise or fall together. And we are determined to rise."
We may live in the shadow of this pandemic, without a vaccine or reliable treatment for some time. I'm not likely to agree with everything that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or Georgia Governor Brian Kemp does, but I respect both their office and the individual in both cases, and if I can't bring some part of a solution to the table, you won't find me kibitzing about the verbiage or their leadership traits/intelligence in this space.
And it was another favorite President of mine who wisely said in 1858, prior to a quite uncivil Civil War, during his pre-candidacy for the White House in a speech to Illinois Republicans, "A house divided against itself, cannot stand."
We are still standing, but these legs feel a bit wobbly to me. Let's remember that despite a difference of opinion, political party and favorite pols, we are all in this together, and until we are on the other side of this, let's act a bit more like it. Take care out there, do not leave your common sense at home, and God bless America.