The right way to ride a blue wave

Like many of my fellow Americans, I have a gripe about the National Football League. But no, it’s not about NFL players kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest racial injustice. I respect that. I’m also perfectly okay with players taking a knee to thank God for a touchdown.

What bugs me now and has for a long time is the taunting and flaunting, the showboating and gloating after scoring or making a big tackle. The coaches of my youth considered such displays unsportsmanlike conduct. They would have benched me immediately. They made it clear to us kids that if there were anything worse than a sore loser, it was a snotty winner.

I bring this up today because tomorrow, November 6, we’re going to finish up our mid-term election voting. I am hoping to be part of a big “blue wave” that gives Democrats control of the House of Representatives, perhaps an extra Senate seat, and a slew of governorships and other state offices. I want us progressives and moderates to put the current President of the United States on notice that people of good will and hope, people who’ve always voted for a kinder and gentler America, are still a force to be reckoned with.

What I sincerely hope we won’t see, if we win, is taunting and flaunting. Celebrations? Of course. It’s been a rough two years since we last voted. But no spiteful, unsportsmanlike displays. We Democrats can’t afford to be petty or snide. We have work to do. Healing work.

It seems as if the only thing Americans agree on these days is that we are a deeply divided nation, more so than at any time since the Vietnam War era, perhaps even Civil War times. This election has been cast variously as a showdown between white Americans and non-whites, men and women, millennials and oldsters, plumbers and professors, gun lovers and tree huggers, us and them.

By and large, however, there is no us and them. There’s only us. All those labels are valid — except when they’re not. Whether we’re praying for a blue wave or a crimson tide tomorrow, we all know people — neighbors, coworkers, kinfolks — who would be there for us in time of personal crisis or need even though they didn’t vote the same as us.

While there’s no escaping the reality that the GOP has become the chosen party of avowed white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Kluxers, homophobes and misogynists, it’s also the party of not just “some good people” but millions of them. And we Democrats have to try to reach out and recruit them, not just for our party’s sake but for the sake of the country.

It’s not just conventional wisdom but a data-supported fact that after President Lyndon Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act through Congress in the mid-1960s, many white and blue-collar Democrats, especially in the South, gravitated to the Republican party. In fact, they didn’t just gravitate, they were actively courted by the GOP as part of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.”

But Democrats played a role in the Great Defection as well. In our zeal to right historical wrongs, we became so focused on minority rights that we largely forgot about the struggles of the working-class white Americans that had been the bedrock of the party of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

The time to start wooing those folks back is overdue. It shouldn’t be an either-or proposition. Democrats ought to have the biggest tent. The President, either by design or out of abject tone-deafness, continues to make statements and pursue policies that alienate racial and ethnic minorities. But those who would challenge him should not and cannot afford to alienate his minority. We need to promote economic opportunity and fairness for all and to work toward balancing idealistic, well-meaning policies with realistic, honest assessment. I believe this is our best hope for narrowing our national divide. The President has shown no interest in changing or compromising to make it happen. Only the progressives and moderates stand a chance.

If there is indeed a blue wave on Tuesday, let’s treat it as an opportunity to be magnanimous, understanding, more inclusive. No taunting, no flaunting, no victory dancing. We have work to do.

And if there is no blue wave, same thing. We have work to do.

Mississippi native, award-winning veteran of The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, stand-up storyteller, lives in Athens, Ga.

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