America's political divide could end if we all considered this 'Brief But Spectacular' idea
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Americans are more interested in politics than ever these days. More voted in the 2020 election than in any other in the past 100 years. Over 65% of the voting-eligible cast a ballot in the contentious fight between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

"People are very excited and paying attention even though there are all this bad news and high 'wrong track' numbers in the country," Nancy Zdunkewicz, managing editor at Democracy Corps, told The Hill.

It's wonderful to see that a greater number of Americans are standing up to be counted and demanding their voices be heard. But it's also the symptom of a deep level of discontent many people feel about their country.


Apathy is toxic to democracy, but it's also a sign that things are going well. In a healthier America, we'd spend a lot more time focusing on the innovations, people, and culture that make this country great rather than the daily circus being performed by its political class.

America's political reawakening has also led to deeper divides between liberals and conservatives. This chasm is more than just a political fight but window dressing for a growing distaste between fellow citizens rooted in geography, class, education, and race.

via jihervas / Flickr

Throughout the entire election cycle, talking heads have repeatedly claimed that a president Joe Biden would work to "unite" and to "heal" America. While his victory was definitely a signal that the majority of Americans want to return to a less abrasive version of politics, it will do little to heal the political divide.

A Biden presidency won't stop social media from dividing people up into bubbles or suddenly change half of the country's mind on abortion.

A 2019 poll from Pew Research found that nearly 80% of Americans think the division between Republicans and Democrats is getting worse.

However, there may be hope for America if, as individuals, we take a more holistic look at how we participate in our democracy. In a new "Brief But Spectacular" take for PBS, Citizen University CEO Eric Liu shared his inspiring new way forward.

"I think people have a misconception that democracy is about voting," Liu begins. "But I think the deeper thing is how do you exercise the full breadth of your power."

Liu uses the example of his immigrant parents to show a way of participating in a democracy that goes far beyond "owning the libs" on Twitter or canceling someone for having a conservative opinion.

"They joined things. They showed up for things," he said. "They knew that to live in society is not just to retreat to your tiniest bubble. But to try to be part of something greater than yourself."

"I think one of the best ways to teach children about civic engagement is to just weave it into a mindful approach of everyday life," Liu adds.

Their work obviously paid off. Liu has worked in both the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations and as the CEO of Citizen University, he creates programs on civic power and character that span age, race, region, and ideology.

via New America / Flickr

"Let's walk around our neighborhoods and let's ask questions about what we see," he continues. "Do you notice that there doesn't seem to be a bus stop where we live? Do you notice that there's only fast food stores in this neighborhood?"

"Everything we see is the external deposit of a whole bunch of internalized choices about power, about responsibility, and about what we are supposed to do to create a healthy, thriving community," Liu said.

Liu knows we have numerous problems whether it's how people of color are treated by police or the quality of our public health systems. However, instead of looking to leaders or parties, he believes we should take direct action by asking "how can I show up?"

Liu invites us to look deeper than the "visible game of partisan politics" and to investigate the "deeper game of our values" and "willingness to accept responsibility."

He calls out for a critical mass of Americans who want to change the tide of division to show up "over and over again" to "rekindle the belief that democracy can work for all of us."

As Liu illustrates, being part of a democracy is about a lot more than voting or cultivating a deeply-held set of political views that are never put into action.

In today's America, most people are paying attention to the national news and the big names from two political parties. But while most of our eyes have been affixed on Washington, there's probably a pothole at the end of the street or someone pitching a tent in the park to have somewhere to sleep.

If Americans cared a little less about their partisan identities and recast themselves and others as citizens, it'd go a long way towards cooling some of the partisan rancor. It'd probably result in a few more fixed potholes as well.

via Ted Eytan / Flickr

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less