We’re all Alaskans — and Americans. We need to remember that.

When I was a small boy, I was lucky to spend a lot of time with my grandfather. One of my favorite memories of time spent with him is that of occasionally going with him, very early on a Saturday morning, to his barber shop. I loved that barber shop — dark wood paneling, electric fireplace and a table full of old duck hunting magazines and Beetle Bailey comics.

The chairs were generally full of the same old men drinking coffee and discussing politics, their lawns or just life in general. Sometimes, these discussion turned into heated debates.

I remember one morning vividly. I was about eight or nine years old, so it was one of the first years of the Reagan administration. It was a cold November morning, cold rain and foreboding clouds outside. You could smell the salt marsh on the hunting clothes of some of the men sitting near the electric fireplace, as they drank coffee and waited for their trims. That morning, the discussion in the shop was heated and about politics, once again. While nuance of the debate that day was above my eight-year-old head, it was obvious to me that my grandfather and the men in the shop were all particularly emotional and upset about the topic, and that they did not all agree with each other. It seemed to me that they were angry at each other.

On the drive home that morning, I asked my grandfather why he kept going back to that shop. I had a hard time understanding why he would want to see the same men every week if they didn’t agree with each other, and seemed that they spent so much time disagreeing with each other.

My grandfather’s answer was blunt: Those men were our neighbors and his friends, regardless of their political beliefs. They were entitled to believe whatever they wanted to believe, as was he. My grandfather wanted me to know that in our country, it does not matter if you agree; what matters is that you take the time to talk with each other. Try to understand each other, but accept that you may never agree. Once that debate was over though, you had to put those differences aside to live together and get things done.

Like most of his generation, he was an Army veteran, and pointed out that he had served in combat alongside men of all backgrounds and political beliefs, but they all had one thing in common: They were all Americans. Republicans, Democrats, socialists — all had fought alongside each other, and many had died to make this country safe for kids like me. So that I could grow up and believe what ever I wanted to believe. That, he said, was what makes America strong.

In 2021, we’ve forgotten this reality. Instead of debating our differences, and then reaching across the aisle to work together to find common ground, improve our communities and our country, we waste our time pointing fingers, shouting on social media and generally acting like spoiled children. We allow monied interests to divide us, to only their benefit. Too many conservatives hate all liberals, and too many liberals can’t be in the same room as conservatives. We have forgotten that no matter what our political beliefs, at the end of the day, we are all Alaskans, and all Americans.

If we can’t work together, we will fail together.

Andrew Hodlofski is an attorney and Anchorage resident.

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