Where do we go from here? Five ways to heal our political wounds in 2017

If you think about it, it wasn’t Benghazi or James Comey’s October surprise or even Russian hackers that got Donald Trump elected. If there is one thing responsible for Trump’s victory on November 8, hands down, it was 14 seasons of television exposure via “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice” shows. Let’s face it, reality TV made Donald a household name and turned his puckered phrase, “You’re fired!” into a universally recognized meme.

So, I have a confession. My brother conceived the show that propelled Mr. Trump to the White House. He pitched the idea in 2001– then titled “CEO”– to NBC and Mark Burnett and was told, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Imagine his surprise when “The Apprentice” aired in 2004 almost exactly as he had written it. It took my brother several years and a high-powered Hollywood attorney to get NBC, Burnett and Trump (all were named defendants) to settle. By that time, the show and its spinoffs had made hundreds of millions of dollars. My brother has never disclosed how much he received in the settlement. But I digress.

With an unprecedented uncivil presidential campaign and people divided in support of or contempt for both major candidates, and increasingly each other, it seems we have become a nation incapable of healthy political discourse. With my brother’s obvious hand in all this, I feel compelled to follow Paul Ryan’s admonition: “This needs to be a time for redemption, not recrimination.” I would like to suggest five important things we can all do to help heal our wounds and return to some semblance of national unity. Please take them very seriously.

  1. Plan a lunch date with someone who voted for the candidate you opposed. If you cannot locate a liberal in your particular bubble of existence, I recommend going to the local university or public school and finding an instructor – or anyone sporting a beard from the 1800s and wearing really colorful socks. For those seeking conservatives, I suggest visiting a small business, perhaps a gun shop – and talking to anyone sporting an 1800s beard and wearing camo. During your lunch meeting, keep an open mind and avoid questions like, “What in the name of all that is holy were you thinking?!” Instead, ask sincerely about their hopes and concerns – share yours – but above all, remember that you are there to listen and build a relationship, not to save Obamacare or build a wall on the Mexican border.
  1. Say a prayer for President Trump. No, seriously, he is going to need all the help he can get. Not a praying person? Send a good vibe his way and let Karma do its thing. Love him or hate him, Americans cannot afford a president making major policy decisions in 140 characters or less. Nor can we afford to tear down institutions of government simply because we do not like the people occupying its offices. (Some might argue that this is how we got into the current situation.)
  1. Get involved. Don’t just talk about getting involved – commit yourself to engaging in a project or issue at the local level where political stripes are not so narrowly defined. If redemption is at hand, it is likely going to be through local, citizen-driven politics, where common sense still has cachet and relationships still mean something. Whether working on political issues or simply volunteering for a good cause, get involved and let your faith be restored by the reality that there are good people doing good things in our communities.
  1. Incorporate one news source into your daily or weekly reading that doesn’t conform to your preferred worldview. If your preferred news sources are Breitbart and Fox News, resolve to incorporate one news source that tends to frame issues from a deliberately liberal point of view. Similarly, if you get your news from MSNBC and The Huffington Post, add a conservative news source to your diet. In a corollary activity, commit to examining your favorite news source critically. In other words, actively question assumptions and frameworks. This is going to be hard for many of us. But if we are going to understand one another, we need to understand how issues are framed from perspectives other than our own.
  1. Finally, resolve to become more knowledgeable about one issue that you know little about.  Read about it and consider it from different angles (see #4 above). Talk with a variety of people and get their perspectives. In six months, you will not only be a more knowledgeable person but may find yourself tapped for television punditry or asked to run for office.