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America's strength? No matter how we vote, the union endures

Elise Patkotak
OPINION: America is exceptional in its long history of union, for despite all of our differences, we've learned to vote and then live with the results. Michael Penn

This column’s deadline is before the results of yesterday’s primary are announced. So congrats to the winners, better luck next time to the runners-up and to the rest of Alaska, enjoy the brief 20 minutes of silence we will have before the onslaught of political noise leading up to the general election.

Given how diverse a country we are, that we can come together to vote on issues and then, for the most part, live with the results no matter how mad they make us is amazing. If you travel through America at all, you quickly come to realize that our continuance as a nation is quite remarkable. Go to Europe, Asia or Africa and, in traveling the same distances, you will pass through four or five different countries with distinct cultures that would find it difficult to successfully mesh into a working democracy. 

Travel through America and you are also traveling through the equivalent of numerous distinct countries, each with its own customs, beliefs and agendas. I recently read a long piece by travel writer Paul Theroux in Smithsonian magazine. He traveled through the American South and, quite honestly, described a world as different from the one I now live in, or the one I grew up in, as the north of England must seem to the residents of sub-Saharan Africa. So how does America manage to hold it together as one country and not break into a bunch of warring factions like we see in the Mideast?

It’s only because we have remained one united country that we’ve been privileged to not have to endure the horror of war in our back yards since the Civil War. Europe, South America, most of Asia, the Mideast -- each of these places has endured the horrors of war on its soil within memory of the living. In forming the European Union, the countries of Europe seem to acknowledge the destruction of hundreds of years of war and the need to unify for both peace and prosperity. Here in America, we’ve been unified since the beginning. And when that unity was threatened, we fought a war to preserve it. That war was costly, painful and horrible but, in retrospect, has probably saved us from even worse pain by keeping us as one.

As the political rhetoric of campaigns seems to get nastier with each iteration, and louder with each corporation that jumps into the fray, the one thing we need to avoid at all costs is making the process so lethal and poisonous that it prevents the healing needed after the vote to get on with the business of America. If there is one thing that bothers me above all else that the Republican Party has done since Barack Obama’s election, it was stating openly and clearly that its only goal was to defeat anything and everything he and the Democrats advocated. That’s not exactly a platform that gives me any hope for our future. We need to come together after each election and figure out how to work together. Whether or not you like any given politician, the fact that the person was elected by a majority of the voters means that a majority of those who bothered to vote want that politician working for them. And that means sitting down with the opposition and figuring out how to go forward in the best interests of America, not in the best interests of any particular political party.

America has been called a grand experiment. Can a people as diverse as we are succeed as one nation or is our inevitable end to become another Middle East where they are still fighting wars thousands of years old? We have got to figure out how to work from the middle so that the divide does not become so large that it cannot be bridged.

So as much as democracy in a country as culturally, religiously, regionally and politically diverse as ours can be loud and messy, as we walk away from August’s voting booths and head towards November’s, let’s use the pause in all the noise to be thankful that despite it all, this union endures. We need to make sure whoever is elected in November understands that it is our unity that makes us great. In that regard, we truly remain No. 1.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores. 

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.