Montana Viewpoint: Same destination, different roads

Jim Elliott

We are living in a tumultuous time, and my bet is it will become even more tumultuous after the election. Whoever wins, the supporters of the losing candidate will be angry. There is talk of not accepting the results of the election, something that has never happened in our history.

The Right is worried about retribution from the Left, win or lose, and the Left fears vigilante “justice” from the self-appointed “guardians of freedom” of the Right. It could be a mess. It doesn’t have to be, but avoiding it will require leadership and graciousness from the influential people of the Left and Right.

A good example was set recently by the Democratic and Republican candidates for the governorship of Utah. They cut an ad together, standing side by side, saying, in essence, we disagree about which of us should be governor of Utah, but we strongly agree that we will treat each other and each other’s supporters with the respect and dignity we all deserve.

Those are not their exact words, but it is their exact sentiment. They are leaders. Perhaps better leaders than we deserve and probably better than those we will get.

On the other hand, a few days ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Liberals are Traitors”. That seemed pretty black and white, and I wondered where that person might think I fit in. People have called me a liberal. They must know what they mean by that, but I don’t.

Other people have called me a conservative. Maybe they, too, know what they mean, but I am baffled by that as well. People are more complex than that. I support the second amendment, does that make me a liberal or a conservative? I support gay marriage because I think government has no business telling us who we can love and who we can’t.

I ask the same question. All that those political tags mean is that you think like me or you don’t think like me. You are either my friend or my enemy, there is no middle ground. All we are doing is finding names so that we can label other people, categorize them, and based on that categorization, accept or reject them. People are more complex than a label can describe, and people are more intelligent than to think that their label can fully describe someone else.

I was talking to one of my County Commissioners a couple of years ago. He was up for election and I mentioned that I was pleased with how well the three commissioners worked together even though they were—before the county voted to have non-partisan elections—of different political parties. “Well,” he said, “we all want to get to the same place, but we might want to take different roads to get there.” I was impressed.

Our dreams and hopes are not all that different from person to person and they are not unobtainable. A decent job, enough to eat, a warm and dry place to live, safe communities, and a future for ourselves and our children. You might be able to make an argument against that, but I can’t. So, if that is the goal all we are arguing about is what road to take to get there.

I am not naïve enough to think that we are all going to hold hands and dance together once we realize we have hopes and goals in common, but I do expect that we understand that the social fabric that binds us together as a nation entails something besides “what’s in it for me?”

We have responsibilities to one another; real responsibilities that seem to sometimes—even mostly—get forgotten. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” might be a good place to start. Part of the privilege and duty of being an American involves working for the good of all and not for only our personal self-interests. That is what makes a great country greater.

In a week or so we will have an election, a very important election. Someone will win and someone will lose. There will be disappointment, anger, and resentment for the loser and their supporters. But in America, we play sports by the rules. We don’t like cheats and we don’t like sore losers, let alone arrogant winners.

If we lose, we pick ourselves up and try harder, but we don’t hate the other side and we don’t harass them because they want to take a different road to get to the same place we all want to get to.

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek. Montana Viewpoint appears in weekly papers across Montana and online at missoulacurrent.com.