August 11th, 2010
09:43 AM ET

Letter to the President #569: "Are we 'united' no more?"

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/08/04/gal.usflag.file11.gi.jpg caption="Can it be that we, left, right and middle, have grown so desperate and hardened against the opinions of others that we have no room left for the 'United' part? Are we now just the 'States of America?'" width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: President Obama has often spoken of unity. He has also, like most politicians, sometimes preached the Gospel of Division. Which reminds me of a conversation I had…

Dear Mr. President,

A friend said something to me yesterday that has been much on my mind, and has had me a shade down in the proverbial dumps. I say “has had” because in the past hour I’ve enjoyed a substantial swing to the brighter side. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, the conversation that spurred this. I was bemoaning, as I am prone to do, the sad state of the news business overall these days and the growing tendency of people to want news that leans left or leans right, rather than news that plays it down the middle. I’ve always been a big believer in the latter. Yes, I know that no news is truly objective, but I think we have to strive for some semblance of that because without at least a ghost of objective truth, I suspect we are doomed.

To put it more directly, (and I realize this is a very tall soapbox I am climbing) democracy itself requires a basic framework of facts that we all agree upon, more or less. We have to agree that murder is wrong, for example. And that jobs for people are good. We need to have a consensus on the need for families to live under roofs, not under bridges. We should acknowledge that talking in movie theaters is felony. And once we elect a president, we all have to recognize his (or her) right to lead our nation, and the respect that the office commands.

Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of room for debate and disagreement in all this. But without an overarching skeleton of common beliefs, I think we may find ourselves in pure chaos.

Which brings me to what this friend said. We had been watching another in the seemingly endless parade of inane debates between the left and the right over some issue, with folks on both sides saying preposterous things, and I let fly with a diatribe based on the points stated above. She responded, “But Americans don’t want to agree anymore.”

I would really love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Can it be that we, left, right and middle, have grown so desperate and hardened against the opinions of others that we have no room left for the “United” part? Are we now just the “States of America?”

I quiver at the thought. I’ve been to places where deep seated animosity has taken the place of mere political disagreement, and the result is not pretty. Riots. Pogroms. Freedoms wiped away. Representative government gone. In short, when people are no longer willing to engage in civil debate with the opposition, civil war has been known to follow. When they can not accept political loss and gain with grace, and respect the order of government over and above their own desires, then what usually comes about is a society in which no faction really wants to live anymore.

So the idea that great numbers of people are willing to sacrifice the peace, progress, and stability of our nation, rather than accept that their pet cause (whatever it may be) may have to wait for its day to come, is astonishing and frightening to me. Should liberals feel unwelcome in our country? Should conservatives feel reviled? Should moderates feel despised? Or should each group, in its turn and day, enjoy both the advantages of a democracy and suffer the shortcomings equally; while still being able to hold jobs, drive cars, raise and educate their children, and watch Dancing With the Stars with no fear of their homes being burned to the ground?

I have seen enough evidence and rancor in recent years to justify my friend’s statement. I have heard hateful, bitter words flung from the left, right, and middle; words that suggest there truly are plenty of Americans who would rather destroy the country than not have their way.

But salvation, I think, lies in the belief that as much as I respect my friend’s opinion, I think she is mistaken. I believe from all my travels that most Americans still value the “United” part of the United States. Sure, many may want their individual state to have its own version of some rules, especially on matters that we as a society have yet to form a consensus on, such as gay marriage. But in the main, I believe most Americans still think we must be a nation of representative government, and we must respect that culture whether we win or lose in any given contest. Because the consequences of not wanting to agree on things, is that we get what we want: disagreement. And with that comes a freight load of other things we really do not want at all.

Just a few thoughts. Sorry for going all heavy on you, but give a call if you can. I really would love to hear what you think about this and whether there is something we can do to make it better.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Dulcie

    Wonderful letter, Tom. Thank you.

    The only news program I regularly watch is AC360 and all this week I've seen guests shouting themselves red-faced over preposterous things and worse.

    The degree of intolerance towards others is horrifying. Whatever happened to civil debate?

    August 13, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  2. Mary Oliver New Orleans

    Once again you are right on target...May you live for a very long time....Maybe some one will come along whom you could lead down this great road you are upon..There is not a word to replace "respect" be it for a person or the highest job within our country.....Many thanks to you and God Bless.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  3. C

    Mr. Foreman,
    This is my favorite part of this song:

    Imagine no possessions
    I wonder if you can
    No need for greed or hunger
    A brotherhood of man
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world


    August 11, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
  4. Shraddha

    That is a very nice letter.
    I am also one of those guilty of getting too opinionated.This is a great reminder.

    August 11, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  5. betsy

    i watch you all the time you are really special the work you dojust wanted you to know

    August 11, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  6. terri mcilravy

    Who can't agree with your points!? A glaring omission, in my humble opinion, when leaders or movers and shakers,corporations etc., become self serving and undermine free markets, who knows what road is to be taken. Verbage, heated and strong, is the first line of defense. Next I suppose is the ballot box. Constitutional checks and balances must prevail. Pray they will!

    August 11, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  7. LithoniaK

    I agree with you. I just want the news....real news w/ facts, not opinions or theatrics. I'm really disappointed w/ the state of the media (or what passes for media). I believe it is contributing to the breakdown of our society. CNN really does do a good job (most of the time) playing it down the middle and after the Shirley Sherrod incident, CNN is where I get my news.

    August 11, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  8. 24KobeBryant

    Your doing good. Keep doing your thing...

    August 11, 2010 at 10:29 am |

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.