When people who have been separated by resentment and unresolved grievances come together to unite, the first emotion you see is hope. But once they're all in the room and they start opening up about why they've felt cut off and put down and neglected and misunderstood, then what you see is anger. I've been in this situation, giving talks or participating in workshops that bring together the critics of mass entertainment with the makers and defenders of it. And I've been in it in workplace discussions and family disputes and marriage counseling. You can't go straight from the optimism that brings people into the room to the genuine concord when everyone's gained a little more understanding of each other and choose to push on together. People have to know that their resentment has been heard and respected before they can let it go. People have to cross boundaries and be reminded to step back. People have to vent. The whole group has to go through the anger to get to the other side.
This is where we are now in this election. We've been through the excitement: yes, we can unite. Yes, we can put our old resentments aside. But then we start talking about our resentments. Who compromises with whom, who feels like she's compromised too much, who feels like he's never been allowed to voice his frustration. So the conservative rage starts spilling out, and the liberal rage, and the white rage, and the black rage. And it feels bad for a while. We start thinking, what happened to that soaring hope? This isn't the conversation we thought we were starting.
But the conversation will not stop here unless we retreat behind our separate resentment again and walk away. If we keep talking honestly we will begin to understand that we all have our anger and we don't have to be afraid it. We can overstep, but we can learn to modulate it too. None of us has to hold any more resentment in us than we want. We can let the other person have his anger and we can let go of ours. Then we notice that it becomes easier for him to let go of his.
The power in those conversation seems to shift for a while to the angriest people in the room. But if we keep talking, and if most people in the room have a genuine will to come together, and if someone leading the discussion can remind us with some firmness of our purpose for being there, then the power will start to shift. It will shift to the calmer voices. To the people who can hear the anger and allow it to be, but still leading us forward. For a while, the angry voices will be turned against the calmer voices. When we're frustrated we like to pick fights, and for a while we tell ourselves that the person trying to bring us together is siding with the people we don't like. "If you're not on my side, you must be on his!" But as it sinks in that he's acknowledging everyone, asking everyone equally to come together, we calm down. We get it.
I believe that the majority of Americans do want to move beyond the resentments that have split us apart and alienated us from one another. We're going through the angry part of the conversation now, but I believe that we're moving through it. Barack Obama has been one of the clearest, calmest voices in the room, and right now that makes him a target. But he keeps reminding us, with a misstep now and then, that his purpose is to hear all of us and bring us together. He pushes back when people overstep the bounds of constructive conversation. But he doesn't vilify or demonize or try to pick fights so that he can divide and conquer.
I believe that once we get through this ugly passage we will see people moving back to the idea of unity. The Democratic party will come back together. Senator Clinton will help pull it together, once Obama has locked up the nomination. And if Senator McCain and the Republicans try to fight this movement with nothing but anger and calls to disunity, they aren't going to do well in November at all. This isn't a downward slide back to where we were. This is just the crucible of rage that we all have to pass through.