With days to go until the presidential inauguration, the hope for the traditionally sedate transition between the old and new administrations has been anything but. Instead feelings of fragmentation and anxiety spurred by the brutal presidential campaign and its aftermath prevail. There are still millions who distrust the “other America”, stirred by bitterly divisive political, racial, and religious rhetoric that has torn our national unity to shreds.
In his acceptance speech on election night, Donald Trump promised that he will be the President for all Americans. Achieving this lofty but critical goal may begin with a slogan but will take a much more from the new Administration. We respectfully urge the President to add one more executive order for Day One: the appointment of a National Commission for Healing.
We have become a nation of victims. Every group with a sobriquet that survives two news cycles feels that it has been wronged. From ‘deplorables’ to Democrats; fly-overs, free-thinkers and fundamentalists; populists and progressives – all believe that they have been ignored, disappointed, and beaten down. All of us need to listen to find a better way.
We can see the rolling eyes from the Left who will dismiss the idea as insufficient, while the right will reject it as a meaningless kumbaya exercise. But it will work, whether fully or partially, because the premise is known to be sound. Healing only begins when people are given a chance to be heard. It has worked before, and is well worth the attempt. At best, it will help calm a troubled nation. At worst, the new administration will better understand the landscape of American emotions.
Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence - which will give it gravitas - it should meet regularly for one year, with an option to renew. The President should name people who are trusted in large but different swaths of ideological territory. The Commission will serve as a sounding board for those with grievances; as a portal to call out the social media giants who have done too little to degrade the marketing of hate mongers; and as an echo chamber for a multitude of under-appreciated local initiatives of citizens whose daily actions should make them true American heroes.
In 2017, in a roiling America, we should have no cause to despair. We are a nation profoundly blessed with wisdom, spunk, and know-how. The commission will gather the best practices already in play, call attention to them, and reignite our optimism by showing Americans what gems we hold in hand. As Winston Churchill, no stranger to bringing a nation together, said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
The Commission with equal zeal will strive to address the hatred and bigotry that is clogging the arteries of our national conversation, online and off. The existing tensions and distrust will not dissipate on their own, but will continue to grow unless challenged.
We cannot degrade extremism without including the tens of millions of Americans who rejected Mr. Trump at the polls. Many of them seek a signal from the President-Elect that his administration will be open to hear all voices. A commission on national healing will be that signal.
Just shy of the end of an earlier domestic war that shocked all Americans in its length, ferocity and human toll, President Abraham Lincoln expressed ideas and a vision in his second inaugural address, one that is as valid today as it was then: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.