By Scott Robertson
Why does it take a hurricane, or a fire, or some other tumultuous calamity to bring us together?
As I sat Sunday watching all five living former Presidents of the United States read their lines in a public service announcement to raise funds for hurricane relief in Texas and Florida (that’ll likely expand as Irma continues to redistribute Caribbean water elsewhere in the U.S.), I wondered why we need a common challenge to make us act as a single nation. Bill Clinton’s line in the One America PSA was, “America is at her best when, against all odds, we come together and lift each other up.” Okay, but why?
Why do we care less about divisive, confrontational ideological battles like white supremacists vs black lives matter when it rains really hard? Why do we turn past the interviews with Steve Bannon on one channel and Hillary Clinton on another in order to watch coverage of hurricane relief efforts? And why do we so readily donate to the Red Cross, or to the former presidents’ One America initiative, putting our money where our hearts are, when we are sick of both parties asking for funds in their never-ending, rarely-productive political battle?
There’s no question that we find not just common ground, but common decency when met with a common challenge.
I have been present and seen first-hand, during a blizzard, when a group of four local radio stations pulled their programming – all the music, and yes, all the commercials – to use their airways as a real-time clearinghouse for coordination of relief efforts. Families who needed help called into the stations from their homes, were put on the air live, and listeners with four-wheel drive vehicles called in to confirm they were on the way with food, gas for generators or whatever else was needed.
Maybe it’s as simple as having a fight we know how to win. We politicize and argue about every problem that creeps up on us gradually. But when catastrophes hit, we know the basics – food, clothing, funds for shelter and building supplies – and we respond. In times of crisis, we respond better than we do on any routine day.
But beyond knowing what to do, what makes us unify in crisis? It’s not like the devilish distractions themselves go away. Infowars and Huffpost were still there this week, trying to bait us with stories that the storms happen because God is angry with liberals, or Mother Nature is angry with climate-change deniers. Yet we do a better job of tuning them out when suddenly there is much work to be done that hadn’t needed doing before.
I have railed for years in this space against the industry of keeping divisiveness alive. On the average day, we are assailed by those on both sides of the political spectrum whose only job is to keep us at each other’s throats.
Those people are very good at their jobs. Yet when crises hit, Americans realize that we are weaker when we are disunited. We are stronger when we put aside petty differences.
Our country is the greatest place on Earth. When we are united in the interest of its ideals, we are the greatest people. If only we could remember that when the sun is shining.