Commentary: Something in America has changed

Nov 2, 2012

The election is now only four days away, and I’ve been thinking about what will happen afterward.

Earlier this week, I received a nasty phone call from a woman named Bonnie.

She believes President Obama is evil, and a traitor.

She thinks the media are covering up the truth behind the killing of the American ambassador to Libya.

She was also upset that we are covering up the “fact,” as she put it, that President Obama’s family were all Communists.

I told her, in not very polite terms, that was idiotic.

She began screaming and I hung up.

Afterwards, I realized that what worries me isn’t her crazy ideas. It is that Americans and Michiganders have become extremely and frighteningly polarized.

Five days from now, we are going to wake up, and in all likelihood, know who the next president will be, and know the outcome of most other elections.

We should know whether Michigan’s Speaker of the House survived a vote-rigging scandal, and the fate of the six far-reaching proposals on the Michigan ballot.

What worries me is what happens then.

Thirty-six years ago today, there was a similar and extremely close election between incumbent President Gerald Ford, the only Michigander ever to make it to the White House, and Jimmy Carter.

Afterwards, while Ford supporters were deeply disappointed, they didn’t run around saying Carter was an evil man who was really born in another country.

But something has changed in America.

In the early years of our nation’s history, the prevailing mentality was that it was us against the world. During the Cold War, it was America against the evil empire, and we had a slogan:

Politics stops at the water’s edge.

In other words, criticize domestic policy all you want, but we needed to present a united front.

Well, the Cold War’s over, and there’s nothing wrong with disagreements on foreign policy.

But they shouldn’t start with the proposition that the President is a traitor.

Things in this state are almost as bad, especially, these days, between much of the legislature and the unions.

That’s why we face a proposal that seeks to make collective bargaining a required part of our state’s constitution.

Suppose it passes. What then?

Suppose it fails? Will the Republicans in the legislature attempt to finish off the unions by making this a right-to-work state?

Polls now suggest strongly that the political landscape next year will look pretty much as it does now.

What worries me most is what the Bonnies of this nation might do if the people re-elect President Obama.

Might they be tempted to “save” the nation by means outside the law?

Even if that’s a needless worry -- will our leaders finally work together to tackle our serious long-term problems, or will they go on playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship?

Five days from now, Michigan’s biggest city will still be teetering on the brink of collapse, and the governor will know whether or not he has an emergency manager option available as a tool.

In either case, what happens next?

Poor dysfunctional Rodney King died in June, leaving us with his immortal, over-used and often misquoted question, “Can we get along?”

That’s not what we should be asking.

Next week, we need to ask instead: “We need to get along. How do we make this work?”

If we want a future, we don’t have any choice.