View From Glen Hill: Going Forward

It’s a time of disappointment (profound I’m sure for the majority of voters here who voted for Clinton), anger and elation depending on your political viewpoint. My objective is not to reflect on the election or to say any more about either candidate than what I’ve said in three previous columns.

From my standpoint, the issue now is very clear: how do we move forward? The answer to my mind lies in giving the benefit of the doubt while always being vigilant. The American experience has shown us time and again how resilient we are as a people when we work together. The real danger now is extreme polarization. Positions of the stature of President or U.S. Supreme Court justice can mold the person who holds them in unexpected ways. And in the case of the Presidency, the burdens of the office have a way of shaping the officeholder markedly, as we’ve seen in the aging of President Obama before our eyes as we saw with President Bush before him.

And as more than one President has come to rue, what you thought you were appointing to the Supreme Court turns out to be different from what you get on the bench. The same can and has been true for our Presidents as they grow in office and gain a viewpoint they may not have had before as to what is achievable and what their legacy will be. But even if it’s not, this country has survived its Warren G. Hardings and Andrew Johnsons, to name but two of our less distinguished Presidents.

What this country cannot afford is a continuing sense that we are a nation divided. While the President is often called upon to be a unifier of the people from, as Teddy Roosevelt aptly termed it, that “bully pulpit,” the actual powers of the Presidency are far more limited than one might otherwise expect in the brilliant system of checks and balances that our Founders enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

So let’s allow the process to unfold and meanwhile set the example for unifying experiences ourselves, right here in Wilton. One series of such experiences are our moving Veterans Day observances, including those in our schools. While many other school districts take Veterans Day as a holiday, Wilton does not. Instead, it devotes the day across all of our schools to observances conducted in large student assemblies with creative and stirring programs and many students actively participating as narrators, vocalists and instrumentalists. These programs are a great reminder that we are — all of us — together joined in this amazing experiment and experience in enlightened democracy that is America and that has been a light to the world for so long. It’s very much an unfolding story, and our history teaches us that it’s a path we tread best when we tread it together, united in spirit notwithstanding differences in viewpoint.

There are plans going forward right now for town-wide gatherings focused on reflecting who we are as a town that focuses on the needs of others and strives for mutual respect and inclusivity and celebrates our strength in diversity. While these plans’ genesis may lie in the divisions raised by the Presidential election and such troubling matters as the recent mean-spirited and demeaning football-game chants by a few directed at immigrant and minority communities, its purpose is far more broad and positive: to remind us of who we are and of our great strength when we act together in community and view each other — across the wide spectrum of different political views, ethnicities, races, religions, national origins, sexual orientation, and personalities — as part of one community. There is enormous power in that for the good.

Correction: Regarding my column last time on challenges for affluent teenagers, the speaker I referenced, Suniya Luthar, Ph.D., has asked that her startling data — “indicating lifetime diagnoses of alcohol or drug dependency” that can be in the 20% and higher range for both men and women, based on her longitudinal studies following kids from affluent communities up to age 27 — be referenced as being preliminary and subject to peer review that is now ongoing. Also, Prof. Luthar reports that her initial affluent-community control-group study that led her in this new research direction (one focused on youth in affluent communities) was not done in Westport as I had stated but in an (unidentified) town “similar to Westport” and was then followed up by her comparable study in Westport.