Belmont Citizen-Herald: November 24, 2016
In this brief time period between Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, it is appropriate to consider the intersection of the emotions that both engender. I was recently reading an article that Peter Wehner, who describes himself as a “cheerful conservative,” wrote for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington D.C. Even though we may share few political perspectives in common, Wehner nonetheless offered counsel that would be well-heeded by myself and other like-minded progressives. Wehner’s commentary was titled “On Gratitude.”
In criticizing today’s conservative movement, Wehner stated that “these days conservatism, at least in some quarters, is characterized more by its grievances than gratitude. One can sense. . .a ‘narrative of injury.’” In contrast, he said, “gratitude, for our country and our station in life helps sand off the edges of anger toward those we disagree with. You will never meet a person in possession of a gracious spirit who is burning with rage toward others. Gratitude is also a close cousin to other important civic sentiments, like sympathy and compassion.”
Wehner continued, “we can always discover something to be angry and agitated about—in life and politics. There is always some heresy to attack, some outrage to condemn, some threat to live in fear of. But resentment is not a very attractive human quality.”
This is not to say that the challenges ahead are small or that the dangers are not real given the recent election results. Clearly, we must resist a rollback in human rights. We must resist the dismantling of environmental protections. We must resist attacks on reproductive rights. Again, however, I find myself in agreement with Wehner. “[Gratitude] hardly precludes conviction and tough-mindedness when it comes to articulating policy. Democracy was designed for disagreement, and the proper role of an opposition party is to oppose.”
Wehner was lecturing his fellow conservatives when he wrote his commentary back in 2011. Yet in the post-election days of 2016, progressives, too, should heed Wehner’s advice. “Resentment is not a very attractive human quality. . .[A]nger, personal attack, and extreme language do nothing to expand the appeal of a political movement.”
It’s not simply the federal government that is at issue. Readers of this column know that there are things about Belmont I would change. I would have a five-person board of selectmen. I would have a serious conversation about the merits and demerits of consolidating our police and fire departments into a single department of public safety. I would create a stormwater utility to address water pollution. I would allow the development of more housing for the aged to downsize to, while still remaining in town.
But none of that detracts from what we have and should be grateful for. We have talented public servants, both paid employees and volunteers, who are committed to maintaining and improving our community. At long last, we have begun a years-long effort to repair and repave our streets. We have a school system that is not merely the envy of many, but the envy of most. We have non-governmental community institutions that promote art, music, and theatre. We have close-knit neighborhoods and strong community-based organizations.
I do worry about the impact that the recent election will have on our local community discourse. I am, however, grateful for the community that we have here in Belmont. And I am also grateful that we have a Thanksgiving Day, while not a political day in any sense, that this year in particular might nonetheless give us all reason to reflect on how we each personally will choose to move forward in our civic engagement.