Reconciliation and Hope

Author: Gary Hart

Most American historians trace high degrees of national unity to two causes: depressions and wars.  Americans put ideology and party aside, at least for the time being, during these conditions.

Only demagogues seek a platform when one-third of the people are ill-clothed, ill-housed, undernourished, and out of a job or when foreign enemies threaten our security.  On any score of national unity, we get together under these conditions and generally put ordinary politics aside until we recover some degree of economic and territorial security.

On the other hand, disruptions such as globalization, immigration, and technology are less tangible and more readily reduced to partisanship.  Politicians of one kind or another will seek advantage in the disruptions such trends and tides produce.  It is too easy to blame the other side for lost jobs or economic dislocations these trends produce.

We are currently in such an era of blame and accusation and seem far from pulling together to address genuine challenges that confront us all.

Is there a way to create some form of national unity absent an economic depression or a serious threat?  Partisan media and special ideological interests make it difficult.  Inciting anger and resentment makes money.  It excites the passions, regardless whether the object of the negative passion is a fellow American.

There will always be conservatives and liberals.  Whether this is solely the product of nature or nurture will probably never be resolved.  But the differences come to the fore when there is general stability and political advantage can be generated out of discontent.

Even in the absence of economic depression or military threat, fear can and does arise and will be used by those seeking power.  Those who generate fear and capitalize upon it must look to their own consciences for justification.  Whatever else is involved, it is not in the national interest.

Looking beyond the era of Trump, it is not too soon to consider ways to bridge the political gaps, repair social damages, restore confidence in government, encourage hope, and look for hopeful ways to move our nation forward.  An era of national reconciliation would be welcomed by all citizens of good will.  But to achieve it will require most of us to lay our political cudgels aside and seek avenues that unite us.

I have long been an advocate of a national service program primarily, but not exclusively, for young people.  Advocates along the way have outlined ways in which the costs of higher education can be offset by those who participate for a year or two either in AmeriCorps or Peace Corps type services.  Such a program can and should be military/non-military in nature.  And the growing number of the healthy elderly would welcome some constructive service to undertake.

The sense of service to the nation is a boost to civic duty and civic virtue.  It lasts a lifetime.  And there is much to be done in homeland security, aid to the elderly, community reconstruction, educational and reading programs, environmental repair, shelter construction, and health delivery.  These activities and others are a major contribution to the national interest.

In addition, community and local governments can and should do more to restore civility to town meetings with or without elected officials participating.  There are a wide variety of problems at the community level that affect, one way or the other, almost all its residents.  These issues require discussion and citizen participation and input.  Individual empowerment, especially in an age of alienation, would help overcome the widespread sense of dislocation and isolation.

Religious institutions, churches, synagogues, and mosques, among others, have important roles to play.  Their leaders can and should institute inter-faith discussions and dialogues aimed at reducing and possibly eliminating fears and misunderstandings based on misinformation and in some cases calculated hate-mongering.  Such inter-faith occasions should be open to the broader public and not just adherents of one faith or another.  Questions should be invited and reasonably answered concerning religious practices and rituals, dress codes, prohibitions, religious histories, and much else concerning which ignorance may prevail.

In recent times, too many wedges have been driven into American society by those seeking political advantage.  Fears have been introduced and exploited.  Races have been divided even further than usual.  Genders have been set against each other.  Much effort has been expended in causing citizens to distrust their own government, even by those now occupying that government.

There are policies that overcome “I win, you lose” approaches.  Reasonable people can fashion immigration policies that are fair, just, and protective of those who fear for their lives.  Those policies can also encourage and welcome the best and the brightest into our technological and industrial circles.  There are balanced environmental policies that protect the health and safety of American citizens without shutting down whole industries.  There are health insurance programs that are fair to the insurance industry and affordable by most Americans.  There are public education programs that will boost test scores and student successes without wholesale privatization and higher education financing programs that do not put students in financial bondage for decades.  The list goes on.

Why do we not do this?  Politics and partisanship.  Parties and ideologies.  Forces that divide instead of unite.  Forces that believe there is only one way and that is their way.  Forces that raise and spend fortunes to ensure that the other side fails.  Forces that profit from a nation divided.

We can wait for another depression or war to unite us.  Our efforts to regulate against exuberant risk in finance, when they are exercised, help prevent depression.  And large-scale global wars have been replaced by unending local wars and cyber conflict.  That is the good news but news that reduces the traditional causes of national unity.

So, we may have to find ourselves ways of overcoming division and achieving unity that are less costly but much more rewarding.  It is a question of national will.  Perhaps we will finally exhaust ourselves in internal political conflicts and decide there is a better way.  Perhaps we will raise up a generation of leadership skilled in reconciliation and cloaked in moral authority.  Perhaps, as a nation we will finally achieve a degree of maturity required to push aside the forces of division and the false leaders who profit from anger.

Then, hope will replace fear and we will have a chance to achieve our true destiny.


9 Responses to “Reconciliation and Hope”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    This is a truly excellent and inspiring piece – a real joy to read!

    This was key for me: “Looking beyond the era of Trump, it is not too soon to consider ways to bridge the political gaps, repair social damages, restore confidence in government, encourage hope, and look for hopeful ways to move our nation forward.”

    This is precisely what a winning Democratic message for 2018/20 looks like. And, a call to national service – military and non-military – caps it off.

    Senator Hart also wrote: “But to achieve it will require most of us to lay our political cudgels aside and seek avenues that unite us.”

    This, of course, will require deep inspiration from the right Democratic presidential candidate.

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Aside from a winning Democratic message for 2020 and beyond, this important piece is nothing short of a recipe for strengthening democracy – in America and around the world.

  3. Amy G Says:

    Senator Hart,

    It is so comforting to read these words from a truly inspirational leader. Your insightful message indeed provides hope for a better future for our country, when hope has seemed lost lately. Like many people, I have been extremely frustrated with the current state of politics and with the division of our nation. We need more leaders like you and your late friend Senator McCain. I hope and pray that the 2020 candidates – in both parties – heed your advice. And….in the meantime, your more local suggestions should be implemented, and hopefully reasonable, non-divisive leaders will be elected next month.

    I was an idealistic 18-year-old in 1988, and you were the first presidential candidate for whom I campaigned and voted. You inspired me then, and 30 years later, you still do.

    Please keep sharing your words of wisdom with us. I sincerely thank you for reassuring us that there is still hope for reconciliation.

    ~ Amy

  4. Jack Myers Says:

    Senator, in all respect, it honestly seems too late. If things are this dire not even two full years in, and God forbid he is reelected, where will we be then? I shudder to think how angry and divided and bereft of hope America will be by then. Every day, another disgrace, another embarrassment, another scandal, another outrage. The only thing saving most of the existing institutions of our government in my view that Trump truly does not understand how government works, i.e checks and balances. Even should he not be reelected, if he serves a full term to 2021, that is still almost two and a half additional years of havoc that can be wreaked while our confidence in said institutions and in the ability of the will of the people to be heard. As someone who has enough reasons to be nervous for many I know and myself, it’s getting hard to believe that anything can be accomplished. Look at what happened today with Judge Kavanaugh. The Senate folded like a house of cards. This isn’t even beginning to go into what is going on quietly while we’re focused on other outrages.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    You make a very good point with your last sentence but, as a Canadian who still believes in the promise of America, it’s never too late.

    Unfortunately, it may be too late for much of the devolutionary media. What the Trump administration is doing quietly needs to be consistently shouted from every hilltop, as it were, and even form part of that winning Democratic message for 2018/20.

  6. Lorenzo Cherin Says:

    This is what those of us herein and beyond who admire our host have come to love about the mind and thoughts of this man Gary Hart.

    The comments from our regular friend here, Elizabeth, likewise.

    Here is a principled collection of ideas for a programme for government.

    As in the US so in the UK.

    That which is doable and not divisive. Hopeful but not hurtful.We must change our political culture the world over.

    Visit my link too and share thoughts

  7. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    There are many ways I guess to look at what Sen. Lindsey Graham in January called our prevailing federal governmental “s—show” , one that he promised would “get better” but then chose to make infinitely worse during his own outburst during the second Kavanaugh hearing: . (If Sen. Graham reads his detractors he might have remembered the colorful phrase from an article that coined it in relation to the Trump-GOP here: .)

    My own understanding of where we are as a nation, what got us here and how we get out of it differs from Sen. Hart’s, and yet is informed (in substantial measure) by the part of our nation’s recent history in which he played an important role.

    Let me explain by again alluding (as I have before in this space) to the poet Wlliam Blake’s directive: “To see a world in a grain of sand.”

    The granular object in this instance is an article for Georgetown Prep’s “underground newspaper” named “The Unknown Hoya” in which Mark Judge mocked the girls school Dr. Christine Blasey Ford attended in her youth, Holton Arms, in vile misogynist language AND for (of all things) the low caliber of Holton’s own “underground newspaper.” See [reproduced excerpt of Judge article titled “The Truth About Holton”].

    Hmmm…Come again?!?

    This was 1982! “Underground newspapers” first appeared in the late 1960s. They expressed the left-liberal counter-cultural rebellion of that era, centered upon resistance to the draft and to the Vietnam War. These underground papers even showed up in Vietnam, as an agitated conservative Army officer noted in his famous memo here: at the nadir of the Vietnam War disaster. And these underground screeds were so ubiquitous they showed up in the lockers in Beverly Hills High School where I attended between 1968 and 1972. I didn’t write for it but read it with interest.

    It is clear from all the minutia surrounding Brett Kavanaugh and his early 1980s Georgetown Prep milieu (the detailed surfeit of which plainly fortifies Ms. Ford’s self-evidently truthful account) that the nature of the “underground newspapers” of Kavanaugh and Mark Judge’s era had their origins in the conservative movement’s counter-offensive against all the liberating currents of the 1960s. (How exactly this rightist counter-counter-culture arose is beyond the scope here but it appears ultra-conservative elements consciously decided to imitate the left-liberals’ ways and means for their politically opposite rightist ends.)

    The closest the 1960s liberating currents got to meaningfully affecting our nation’s governance were in the presidential campaigns of Shirley Chisholm, Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy in 1968, George McGovern in 1972, the one-term presidency of Jimmy Carter (in limited respects including his blanket pardon for Vietnam era draft resistors, military non-interventionism, lip-service to human rights, and renewable energy policies), and in the presidential candidacies of Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart in 1984 and 1988.

    Sen. Hart spoke for most non-conservative members of his own “Silent Generation” (born between ~1928-1945) and the more politicized left-liberal members of the baby-boom generation in the peroration and conclusion of his 1984 Democratic National Convention speech, which I recently used c-span’s tool to reduce to a user-created “clip” here: .

    In it Sen. Hart (melding the Silent and Baby Boom generations) said (at the 50 second mark):
    “And now today a new generation of Americans is coming of age. A generation that has a unique bond of tragedy and triumph. Our generation wept at the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy and of Martin Luther King. We grieved at the tragedies of Vietnam, and we were dismayed at the travesty of Watergate. But this generation also marched together in movements that altered the face of American history: The Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement, the peace movement. And we will make history yet again!”
    In an earlier passage in the speech Hart called for protections for organized labor, which since Cesar Chavez and the UFW’s heyday here in California had further included agricultural farmworkers left out of the labor movement of the 1930s-1950s and the Wagner Act that empowered it. Overall Hart’s speech didn’t remotely match the “neoliberal” label many older Democrats and some left-wing Democrats of that era had pinned on Hart. (I defy anyone to watch the entire speech and say differently.) It was (metaphorically speaking) an entire plate of “beef” like the heaping ones served at Lawry’s restaurant in LA every early January to the 2 college football teams competing in the Rose Bowl!

    In any event: Rightist conservatives were (of course) having none of it (“the 60s movements”). Since the mid-1960s they had been counter-attacking on all fronts, including (for present purposes) by creating in conservative hotbeds such as the affluent suburbs surrounding the Washington DC beltway, a rightist youth culture that essentially inverted 1960s values: It substituted rightist Reaganism for left-liberal McGovernism or moderate Carter-Mondalism; alcohol for marijuana; patriarchy and misogyny for women’s empowerment and male sensitivity to women’s dignitary (and sexual) needs; militarism, belligerence and an imperial presidency for non-interventionism and the Vietnam Syndrome; the Berger and Rehnquist Supreme Courts for the Warren Supreme Court; etc. etc. etc. They even tried to substitute doppelganger twisted conservative blondes (like Ann Coulter) for dreamy liberal ones (like Joni Mitchell) as cultural icons. And similarly sought to popularize dark and stunted conservative literary figures such as PJ O’Rourke and Brett Easton Ellis for liberal icons such as JD Salinger, Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut.

    The conservative movement took special aim at ending the federal courts’ role in American society as bastions of legal, social and racial justice. All the mechanics are also beyond the scope here but included chartering competitors to non-partisan bar associations and left-liberal public interest law groups, such as those pioneered by Ralph Nader. The goal of these new groups, including most prominently The Federalist Society, was to normalize arch-conservatives’ twisted injustice “philosophy” and mission, to identify and congregate rightist political ringers among law students and then to funnel them into prestigious federal court clerkships and other high echelon governmental and private firm positions. In sum, with the full cooperation of Republican presidents, rightist ruffians turned the federal judiciary into a conservative political spoils system. Another Blake-ian “grain of sand”/“fun-fact” that came out during the recent confirmation imbroglio is that Kavanaugh’s ex-girlfriend received a District Court appointment from President Trump in 2017! See photo caption here: can’t make this stuff up.)

    As for Mr. Kavanaugh, after graduating Yale Law School the Georgetown Prep alumnus participated in every single cause celebre of conservative activism, from Terri Schiavo to Elian Gonzales to Bush v. Gore, to W’s presidential inner circle and all the intrigue surrounding the Iraq War, W’s approval of torture of enemy combatants, mass surveillance, packing the federal courts with arch-conservatives, etc. etc. In sum, Mr. Kavanaugh became a legal and political “hit man” (figuratively speaking of course) who never met an indefensible obtuse rightist cause he didn’t enthusiastically embrace.

    Some of us “left behind” in the brave new conservatively-dominated legal world have tried (mostly in vain) to call bulls–t on all the rightist injustice-mongering. Re Elian Gonzalez, for example, see my rejoinder in real time here: . And for those interested see my rejoinders to Bush v. Gore (which I have mentioned before in this space) here: (1st anniversary op-ed) and here: . This latter 10th anniversary letter was further well-headlined by the Washington Post to provide a lasting reminder that the Supreme Court has been “politicized” for the entire 21st century! A silver lining from the Kavanaugh debacle is that it is now widely recognized as such.

    Mr. Kavanaugh barely practiced law and never tried a case! In spite of this (or more likely because his political service had been so valuable) the Reagan-Bushes-Trump conservative powers-that-be (and they are obviously all one thing) wired Kavanaugh into the DC Circuit and now the Supreme Court.

    Other than in some facets of social liberalism, the right has successfully thwarted the ascendancy of 1960s values in America. Although how they did so is still unknown: the right’s sabotage of Sen. Hart’s 1988 presidential candidacy was a pivotal (if not THE pivotal) milestone in conservatives’ 50 year quest to dominate a non-conservative nation (from 1968 to the present). Alas the upcoming film, The Front Runner, cannot possibly be revelatory in this regard because its source material “doesn’t go there” (to the real behind-the-scenes authors of Hart’s “downfall”). For the record, Hart’s 1984 and 1988 media advisor Ray Strother believes it was Lee Atwater. His email to me so stating (at ¶2) is here: .

    Most members of the Silent Generation are now in their late 70s to early 80s, the oldest baby-boomers in their early 70s and the middle baby-boomers (such as myself) in our 60s. Of this you can sure: The positive currents Sen. Hart alluded-to in his 1984 Convention speech are the ONLY ones that can feasibly overcome the conservatives’ takeover of our nation and form an enduring non-conservative governing ethos for America over the rest of the 21st century.

    Presently alas, although the Vietnam Syndrome is definitely here to stay – see – the right-wing is otherwise successfully “running out the clock” and dominating public discourse and American institutions even as they run them into the ground. As Sen. Hart once put it (in words to this effect): The most idealistic and talented non-conservatives in our nation have allowed themselves to be governed by their moral and cultural inferiors.

    It will take a very energetic, insightful and shrewd political mobilization – of an enlightened populist nature – to overcome the right’s inertia and incumbency now. One that is, unfortunately, currently nowhere in sight.

    But to end on a slightly more optimistic note (albeit only of a gallows humor nature) regarding the Kavanaugh debacle and what it signifies, let me quote my fellow Counterpuncher Chris Floyd, who reached back to an episode from the darkest days of the W administration for this quip: “If the Republic Were Not Already Dead, This Would Indeed Be the Death of the Republic.”

  8. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Corrected link:

  9. Eric C. Jacobson Says:

    Correction to my linked reference to the Vietnam Syndrome:

    Herring, George C. “The War That Never Seems to Go Away.” In The War That Never Ends: New Perspectives on the Vietnam War, edited by Anderson David L. and Ernst John, 335-50. University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
    From [excerpt consisting of pp. 335-337]:
    [In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
    15. The War That Never Seems to Go Away by George C. Herring:
    In March 1991, at the end of the First Persian Gulf War, President George H. W Bush exulted that the “ghosts of Vietnam had been laid to rest beneath the sands of the Arabian desert.” What he was saying, of course, was that America’s smashing military success in the Gulf had finally overcome popular fears, left over from the war in Vietnam, of using military force abroad. “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all” he proclaimed on another occasion. Like the rumors Mark Twain jokingly reported of his own death, President Bush’s eulogy for the so-called Vietnam syndrome turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Indeed, just days before he spoke, he had refused to send his triumphant armies on to Baghdad for total victory in the Gulf War-in part, we now know, for fear of getting sucked into a political and diplomatic quagmire like Vietnam. Debates over possible U.S. intervention in Haiti and the Balkans in the mid-1990s and in Kosovo in 1999 and a disastrous involvement in Somalia in 1993-chronicled in the book and film Black Hawk Down-called forth repeatedly the very ghosts the first President Bush claimed to have buried. The pain and shock of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, might have been expected to erase memories of Vietnam, but that has not proved to be the case. Indeed, it seems clear that one of the reasons-by no means the most important, but still significant-that President George W Bush launched a second war against Iraq in the spring of 2003 was to put to rest once and forever memories of a war his father claimed to have expunged twelve years earlier. The influence of the Vietnam War has, thus, been persistent, pervasive, and powerful. Such is its staying power, its hold on the national psyche, that it has become a war that never seems to go away. Why is this so? Why has a conflict that ended for the United States more than a quarter century ago continued to trouble us in so many ways? Why is Vietnam the war that never seems to go away? These are questions that have intrigued me for many years. They are questions that are particularly difficult to answer for today’s students, who have no memory of that war and little information about it except what may be gleaned through the grossly distorted lens of film and television. What I will try to do in this essay is to explain this quite remarkable phenomenon, to come up with some answers to the questions I have raised. A first point to be emphasized is that Vietnam was America’s longest war. Our direct involvement there spanned the quarter of a century from 1950 to 1975. From 1950 to 1954, in the name of containing communism, we assisted the French in fighting a Communist-led nationalist insurgency in Vietnam, ultimately paying something like 80 percent of the cost of the war. From 1954 to 1961, after the French had departed, we attempted to construct in the southern part of Vietnam an independent, non-Communist nation that could stand as a bulwark against further Communist penetration of Southeast Asia. From 1961 to 1965, we assisted the South Vietnamese in fighting an internal insurgency backed by North Vietnam. The real shooting war against the National Liberation Front (NLF) insurgents and North Vietnamese regulars lasted from 1965 to 1973, one year longer than the American Revolution. The length of the war is of more than passing importance, more than simply dates in a history book. We Americans are an impatient people. We want results and want them quickly. Our preferred wars are the war with Spain in 1898, which lasted only four months, and the First Persian Gulf War, which was even shorter. That wise soldier-statesman Gen. George C. Marshall once observed that a democracy (and he was referring… ]
    [An earlier version of this essay was given as the Douglas Southall Freeman Lecture at the University of Richmond in February 2001 and was subsequently published in the Douglas Southall Freeman Historical Review, Spring 2001, 4-29. 335 336 George C. Herring South Vietnamese ambassador Bui Diem, Dr. George Herring, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt , and Douglas Pike at the 1996 Vietnam Center Symposium. Courtesy of the Vietnam Archive, Texas Tech University, Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr. Collection.]
    ————– . See also this video lecture by Prof. Herring ending with: “All the way up to recently every time there’s been even a hint of a war…Vietnam will rear its… head. I’ve even coined a new word if I can say it. I suspect that the bad memories of Vietnam will combine with bad memories of Iraq and Afghanistan to create something I call the Viet-Iraq-istan Syndrone. Which may impact us further into the future. The war that never seems go away. Thank you.”
    Prof. Herring, who states in the above-linked video lecture that he began studying the Vietnam War in 1975 as it was concluding, (overly) politely expressed the same skepticism in “real time” (in 1991) about the accuracy of President GHW Bush’s whopper claim that the Persian Gulf War had “kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all”. See:
    America and Vietnam: The Unending War Author(s): George C. Herring Source: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 70, No. 5, America and the Pacific, 1941-1991 (Winter, 1991), pp. 104-119 Published by: Council on Foreign Relations Stable URL: Accessed: 04/05/2009 15:34 [“President Bush’s eulogy for the Vietnam syndrome may therefore be premature.”]
    PS [from Eric]: I recently reflected on Vietnam in my eulogy for my cousin Rainer Trappe on the occasion of his ashes interment ceremony at Hollywood Forever cemetery in Los Angeles, which I expanded into a 5-part essay, 3 parts of which discuss his service as an Army military policeman and combat veteran in Vietnam and its impact on his life upon his return (as he put it) “to the world”:
    Part 2:
    Part 3:
    Part 5: [Then there was the additional cosmic misfortune that Rainer and Inga’s emigration to Los Angeles [in 1952] coincided with America’s so-called “best and brightest” elites 12 years later crazily sending “a big American land army into Asia” – something General Douglas MacArthur had famously said should cause any such official “to have his head examined.” See here at ¶8.”]

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