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Here's to the bright spots of unity in a divided world

Here's to the bright spots of unity in a divided world
A rainbow in Oviedo, Spain on Oct. 27. (Alberto Morante / EPA-EFE / REX)

The iconic — and probably mythic — image of Thanksgiving is that of Plymouth settlers uniting with the Native Americans who’d helped them make it through their first winter to celebrate their first harvest. Historians will note that the peace between the Wampanoag tribe and the colonists did not last long. Nevertheless, the Thanksgiving holiday freezes the clock at 1621, when the pilgrims and Native Americans believed their interests were aligned.

Today, Americans seem to have trouble recognizing any sort of alignment beyond their own interest-group tribes. Not only are we sharply split by our divergent views about so many things, our rancor is being echoed around the globe. That’s why it’s worth highlighting some of the efforts made this year to bridge the gaps among us and to unite rival factions for the common good. There are many examples; here are but a few of those stories.

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In 2017, the world felt a creeping sense of dread as President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged increasingly hyperbolic threats to bomb each other back to the Stone Age. And then, suddenly, the tone shifted. An early, concrete sign of change came this February, when athletes from the two Koreas — female hockey players — formed a joint Olympic squad for the first time ever. It was a small but remarkable display of unity from two countries whose typical approach to the Olympics was one-upsmanship.

Today, Americans seem to have trouble recognizing any sort of alignment beyond their own interest-group tribes.


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Congress is often lambasted, and deservedly so, for partisan gridlock. But on a few issues, lawmakers have bridged their divide to do modest but important work — most notably, passing a bill in October to make treatment more accessible for opioid addicts. Congress is also poised to enact the bipartisan First Step Act, a criminal justice reform package that would make some initial progress against the plague of mass incarceration.

In other, more divisive areas, the best we may hope for is that Republicans and Democrats keep trying to find common ground. Such is the case with immigration, where a handful of bipartisan proposals to overhaul flawed U.S. laws have emerged only to be shot down. One of the latest offerings is from the New Center, a project started two years ago by former Clinton aide William Galston and conservative journalist Bill Kristol. Here’s hoping it gets further than the proposals that preceded it.

And sometimes it’s just gratifying to see someone in the majority make the first concession. That’s what Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) did in the midst of the Senate’s fiercely partisan and contentious debate over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Although he supported Kavanaugh, Flake agreed with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee that the nomination was moving too fast and that the FBI needed to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against the judge. Criticize Flake all you like for having made his mind up already on the nominee, but he took an important step to try to rescue a tainted process.

Discord doesn’t always follow party lines. In May, a proposal to put a bridge shelter for homeless people on a city-owned parking lot in the heart of Koreatown ignited a firestorm of protests. Instead of scotching the project, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson worked with community residents, business leaders, and homeless advocates to find not only a new shelter site nearby, but also a second site that could be used for permanent housing for homeless people. It’s still not a completely done deal, but it shows how a vital but nearly doomed project could be reborn when people agree to work together toward a compromise.

In another initiative close to home, Assemblyman Chad Mayes (R-Yucca Valley) and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger launched the New Way California effort earlier this year to try to move the state's GOP toward moderation and, they hope, relevance. Mayes, as you may recall, was stripped of his leadership role as punishment for working with Democrats on measures related to climate change. Obviously, his party ignored the New Way effort, but state Republicans’ resounding losses last week might open them to the group’s message. Not only does the state need a healthy two-party system, but a relevant, fiscally pragmatic and business-friendly GOP could be an important check in a post-Gov. Jerry Brown era.

We can even be drawn together by things we abhor. Democratic and Republican members of Congress, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence have joined human rights groups in demanding that Myanmar account for its abominable treatment of its Rohingya Muslim population. It was heartening to see Pence, at a summit in Singapore, sit next to Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, and tell her to her face that the tragic situation “has touched the hearts of millions of Americans” and that the violence and persecution that drove the Rohingya out of Myanmar “is without excuse.” That’s a message we can all unite behind.

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