You know, if every person watching this show — I don’t want to get too serious, but there are millions and millions of people watching right now, and if every one of you took a minute to reach out to one person you disagree with, someone you like, and have a positive, considerate conversation, not as liberals or conservatives, but as Americans, if we would all do that, we would make America great again. We really could. It starts with us.
I have been waiting for someone high-minded and cerebral to artfully articulate what I have been feeling for quite some time as a political science teacher.
Turns out, I didn’t need to read The Atlantic, The New York Times or even National Review. My elusive hope was beautifully translated into reality by the most unlikely of characters in the most unlikely of venues.
Yes, Jimmy Kimmel made the obligatory Donald Trump jokes throughout the evening to the surprise of absolutely no one on the planet. But towards the end of his introductory monologue he waxed lyrically patriotic, reminding all of us we are more than our political opinions; we may possess genuine love and affection for our fellow human beings despite the growing breach—some might say “canyon”—within the American body politic.
And sadly, the brilliance of his sentiment and the earnestness of its delivery will be relegated to a cultural footnote as a result of the evening’s zany conclusion.
This would be tragic as Kimmel’s words are the tonic we desperately need at this juncture of our national journey.
Americans of all political stripes have reported a distressing hodgepodge of emotional, relational, and professional stress as a consequence of the election of 2016 and the inception of the Trump Administration. Friendships have become frayed. Work place harmony has become discordant. Family members have permanently exiled one another not only from their Facebook friend pool, but from their actual, real lives. There have even been reports of marital divorce and the termination of lifelong relationships. Watching the news is literally giving people a watered-down version of PTSD.
Dig a little deeper into Kimmel’s powerful words and something consequential, even profound, comes into focus. When he implores us to be “considerate,” he could just as well have used the words “charitable” or “civil.” But why be charitable to those who are diametrically opposed to all that we hold dear? Why be civil to those who are the enemies of the values we cherish and exalt?
Because, quite simply, our political opinions do not generally dictate the human beings we are. There is nothing more destructive to our lives than to believe our friends and family members who think differently than we do are qualitatively unworthy of our affection. Are we really wiling to say that one’s thoughts dictate the value of their humanity? Not only is this ontologically suspect, philosophically speaking, but it engenders a dogmatism of the soul that deadens our capacity to venture beyond our own political tribe.
Let us remember that in his Second Inaugural Address Abraham Lincoln made a claim that would shock the sensibilities of the modern American: God was the cause of the Civil War. He precipitated the war onto both sides. Lincoln spoke these words, “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”
Now, if Lincoln actually believed this can be disputed by historians and academics alike. But what is beyond dispute was Lincoln’s insistence that we forgive one another for the offences done to one another. After all, we all “read from the same Bible and pray to the same God.” Lincoln (and Kimmel’s) wisdom should echo loudly today, for a nation cannot long endure if we persist in the destructive fiction that divergent viewpoints are portals to defective souls, utterly irredeemable and, sadly, unlovable.
Kimmel reminds us that we can love and disagree at the same time. We can talk about tennis instead of taxes, football instead of foreign policy, and novels instead of the news. What unites the American spirit has always been more robust than the shifting sands of disagreement appearing at any particular moment in our national history.
Amongst the shouting about Russian hacks, fake news, and controversial cabinet secretaries, I guarantee quieter voices can bridge gaps and foster consensus. This is because when Americans take Jimmy Kimmel’s advice we would stop talking about Donald Trump and talk about our children instead. We would stop debating the merits of CNN and Fox News and instead talk about our favorite movies of this Oscar season.
On most nights, I will admit to favoring Jimmy Fallon over Jimmy Kimmel. But last night, the most important and powerful speech of the night was not delivered with an Oscar in hand, but with America in mind.