Walk into the south entrance of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, turn left, and you’ll wander into the auditor of public accounts’ office. Sitting on a lonely chair in the office is a portrait of an obscure figure in Illinois history, Levi Davis, who with his friend and fellow attorney Abraham Lincoln, helped form the Republican Party.
I sometimes wonder what Levi would think of me — his great-great-great-grandson — serving as a Democrat. In today’s world of partisan angst, when even modern-day families split among party lines, would our imaginary political conversation be strained though we are separated by four generations and nearly 200 years? I imagine a conversation taking place at the Old State Capitol, the same place where Levi’s friend Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech and my former boss, Barack Obama, announced his bid for the presidency just over 150 years later.
Levi lived in an era of overheated polemics and more. His three sons served in the 97th Illinois Regiment, helping Ulysses Grant take Vicksburg to reclaim the Mississippi River in the Civil War. His own father served in the Revolutionary War; his brothers in the War of 1812. So, Levi would probably look at our generation and say "you think 2020 is fraught? That’s nothin’."
Republican v. Democrat? I think he’d also say that labels shouldn’t matter. Today, we point at one another, calling each other "liberal," "conservative," "socialist" and so on at the drop of a stovepipe hat. Those "insults" just suggest we’re too lazy to have a real debate with a purpose: To arrive at the best decisions for all of us. At least today, unlike then, we avoid challenging each other to duels when we disagree, like the one to which James Shields challenged Lincoln after an intense debate (about banking policy).
I suspect Levi would say that the reason we’re screaming at each other today, like during his time, is because of fear.
Today, we fear our guns being taken away at the same time we fear someone else’s gun opening fire inside a school.
We fear that wearing a mask represents the slow erosion of personal liberties while not wearing a mask risks the freedom to not get sick from another person’s carelessness.
We engage in "us v. them" thinking, failing to understand there’s a lot more we have in common — success for our kids, jobs that allow for a fair shot in life, the need for affordable health care, safe neighborhoods, and many others — than divides us.
So, as Levi and I sit having our imaginary conversation, asking why each other would identify with their political party, I suspect we’d agree that party affiliation is less important than our values. And, that the best way to keep fear from metastasizing into something more perilous is to listen to each other — closely and respectfully.
Cameron Davis is a commissioner at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. He served in the Obama administration to coordinate the work of 11 federal departments for Great Lakes restoration.
via The State Journal-Register
November 30, 2020 at 07:08AM