A few seasons ago, I came across a wonderful T-shirt at Mann’s Mercantile on Washington Island. On the front was a map of Door County, with Highways 42 and 57 prominently highlighted. Below the map were the words, “Two Roads, One County.” After the cacophony of this presidential election, I cannot get this shirt out of my mind. At the time, Mann’s didn’t have it in size large, or I’d be wearing it for the entire month of November.
I’m deliberately composing this column a few days before Election Day so that I don’t yet know the outcome. Regardless of how it turns out, I expect we’ll see at least a little litigation. There most certainly will be a lot of consternation on one side or the other. And no matter what happens, by the time you read this column, the role that most Americans play in the process – the act of voting – will have been completed.
Although I strongly believe that a government needs the consent of those who are governed, the electoral process itself has always bothered me. Our federal elections are a zero-sum game: There can be only one winner. As a voter, I was confronted with a binary choice. Either I picked the winner, or I voted for a loser. There is no room for compromise. There is no space for common ground. I am very much of the school of thought that democracy is by far the worst form of government – except for all the others.
I am neither wise enough nor educated enough to have conceptualized a better form of government, but I’m concerned that we as a people are taking the binary choice that characterizes our elections and increasingly applying it to the remainder of our national life: You’re one of us, or you’re one of them. You’re with us, or you’re against us.
This insidious habit has become so pervasive that you can see it even here in Door County: You don’t really care about our community because you’re only a seasonal resident. You’re not really “local” because you weren’t born in Door County. Our politics have led us to believe that we all belong to rival tribes. Too often disdain and hostility toward the other tribe have become our normal state of being.
This is absurd because life is nothing like an election. The vast majority of our existence does not present us with a binary choice the way that an election does. Instead, most of life involves compromise. Every day we shift a little to one side or another to accommodate those whose needs and desires are a little different from ours. We drive on the same streets yet still make room for passing cars. We shop at the same stores but take turns at the checkout line. Regardless of whom we voted for, most of us don’t belong to a single tribe, but are instead an amalgam of characteristics that define our identity. When we focus too much on the things that separate and divide us, we overlook what we have in common.
A decade ago, shortly after the Door County Community Foundation launched the Women’s Fund, I received a call from a generous donor in our community demanding to know the Women’s Fund’s position on abortion. I replied that the board had not taken any position. The donor persisted, noting that she knew several of the women involved, and they had strong convictions on that issue.
I replied that although the Women’s Fund’s board members did talk about the issue of abortion, they chose instead to explore areas that everyone shared. After just a few minutes of discussion, it became abundantly clear that everyone agreed that a woman who is pregnant should have access to quality prenatal care. Further, all shared the belief that newborn children need to be protected from abuse and offered a quality education. That’s why the Women’s Fund was so successful from its earliest days. Those wise women chose not to obsess over issues on which they disagreed, but instead, they defined their shared values and worked collaboratively on those things they held in common. It’s a lesson we should all learn. Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, we live our days on the common ground called Door County. We have far more in common than our presidential politics would suggest. Whether you live off Highway 42 or Highway 57, we’ve all chosen to be in Door County. Our love of this beautiful place is what binds us together. Two roads. One county. Contact Bicoy at [email protected]