I’ve been collecting inspirational quotes on a variety of topics for the past 40 years of my life journey. A few words can reinforce and echo our own thoughts and feelings, and promote meaningful conversations with ourselves and with others. I searched through my files to find quotes, through the corridors of time, whose sentiments speak to our current political era, where our country’s democracy is being challenged. The compass of right and wrong has been lowered by some politicians, party loyalists and media who parade untruths and support wrongdoings for their own self-serving purposes.

Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, said, “The goal of politics is to make the citizens as good as possible so that they live their best lives.” He believed that politicians should instill virtuous characteristics in the people. Plato, student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, thought that good actions inspire others to do good. To improve today’s political atmosphere, we need to, as philosophers do, examine our values, principles and ideals, and think about what kind of human beings we want our leaders to be.

During his presidency Donald Trump spewed dishonesty like water running from a faucet, and didn’t model kindness and goodwill. His mocking of disadvantaged people, and calling his opponents names was dehumanizing. He catered to the wealthy and showed little concern for bridging racial, cultural and social divides, or for addressing climate change and environmental issues. Sowing seeds of division and injustice, he spread lies that the 2020 election was stolen, and lit a fire that ignited an angry mob of followers to attack our Capitol. The scenes of disrespect, violence and incivility left an ugly stain on our country’s history, and in the movie theater of our minds and hearts. American historian and cultural critic Ruth Ben-Ghiat says, “Big lies only have traction if thousands of smaller lies have been fed to the public by the leader and his allies in the government and media.”

Trump didn’t express regrets to the American people for the dishonor the insurrection brought, or extend compassion to the families who shed tears for their loved ones who died or were injured by his attempts to stay in power. Dishearteningly so, amid criminal investigations and his first indictment, he is running for president again. He continues to peddle deceit, brew trouble and incite hostility, and is stirring up anger and revenge for efforts to hold him accountable. Poet Maya Angelou told us, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Dwight Eisenhower, our 34th president, cautioned, “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”

With widening division, and distrust of our political fabric, our country is at a crossroads.

Let’s change the tide, set a new course and not support any candidate, red or blue, who is dishonorable and has no integrity-filled vision to address climate and global challenges, economic inequality, social justice, equity and diversity in our country. Former President Jimmy Carter’s humanitarian wishes were that “we become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic, different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.”

As the 2024 election unspools, I reflect upon the heartbeat of these last two quotes, one from abolitionist minister and author James Freeman Clarke – “A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.” – and the other, from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu – “Hope is being able to see that there is light, despite the darkness.”

It’s my hope that our political parties will seek statesmen for candidates who inspire us with a platform that shines with wisdom and truth; one that enhances and dignifies our common good. May all our leaders model civil, respectful and thoughtful behaviors for our children and grandchildren to learn from.

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