Last month, I clipped a “Pearls Before Swine” Sunday comic strip because that day’s theme sounded so relevant to life in our nation just now. Shortly after that, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., lost his battle with brain cancer. While it may seem wrong to place a comic strip and a death notice of a true American hero in the same paragraph, I think the senator would have been pleased to see the way these two sets of thoughts illustrate concern about the great political divisions in our country today.
Sen. McCain gave six decades of service to his country, serving not only in political positions, but also for five dreadful years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. I did not always agree with him, but there was never any doubt that this man loved his country and would have given, and nearly did give, his life for it.
The comic strip was in sync with McCain’s final statement to his country when he said, “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. ... We weaken it when we hide behind walls rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals rather than trust them to be the great force for change they’ve always been.” McCain also admitted, “We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates.”
This last statement fits so well with the “Pearls Before Swine” scenario. Stephen Pastis, the cartoonist, has created four characters, loud-mouthed Rat, simple-minded Pig, thoughtful Goat, and ad-libbing Zebra. The strip in question starts with two human figures who are using #@&* to yell at each other with the notation, “It seems like we are a bit divided.” Rat then offers advice. “Yell louder, because volume convinces, insult more because disrespect opens hearts and listen to more of the shows that made you hate everyone. Because that helps.”
Rat then stands on top of the word and announces, “For as they say, divided we thrive.” Goat, responds, “It’s divided we fall.” Pig continues to yell, “I will insult you ’til I convince you.”
This is who we are today. We are allergic to dialogue that involves give and take. I am old enough, and so are many of our members of Congress, to remember when Democrats and Republicans could jointly craft legislation and make serious decisions in the best interest of the country and not just their political party or party’s wing. I can even recall when integrity and truthfulness were expected and often present in the halls of Congress and the White House, and the First Amendment was as important, if not more so, than the Second.
Some days it seems that we Americans will go on attacking each other, acting like Rat screaming, “Yell louder, because volume convinces.” Will it take a disaster for us to remember that we are all in this boat together and that we have lived through tougher times and survived well?
Sen. McCain ended his last thoughts on a positive note, saying, “We have always had so much more in common than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country, we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”
Wise words from a man who embodied the American spirit.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.