Political polarization is paralyzing our nation, leading us into a wasteland, a place wide open to strongmen and to the endgame they love most — war.

Members of Congress from both parties certainly are aware of the fear and damage they’re causing, but partisan politics seems to be more important to them than the consequences of their actions.

More than half a century ago, when the U.S. was at war with North Vietnam, the late Pope Paul VI appeared before the United Nations and shouted, “No more war, war never again.”

The pope called on everyone to become peacemakers and to put aside warmongering. Sadly, his cry fell on deaf ears.

America’s longest-living president, Jimmy Carter, our Plains neighbor, warned of the gathering storm of conflict on the occasion of his 95th birthday last week.

Too many nations of the world are dangerous places, Carter said, and we need cool, steady leadership at the top to keep us out of harm’s way.

“I just want to keep the whole world at peace,” said Carter, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. His wish is something we should embrace. 

The major mission of his Carter Center in Atlanta is to help nations find avenues to avoid wars and plagues. That goal was to be the main reason for the United Nations, but the UN has failed because of its weakness to carry out its decrees.

The former president said he hopes his Carter Center will become a more forceful advocate against armed conflicts in the future, and this includes our country as well.

Said Carter of the U.S.’s war record: “We’ve been at war more than 226 years. We have been at peace for about 16 years since the Declaration of Independence in 1776.” That’s a sad fact.

Carter said the U.S. “is deeply inclined to go to war partly to implant American policies” in other countries and, unfortunately, “to make heroes out of wartime commanders in chief.”

The American presidents who worked tirelessly to keep us out of wars are the real heroes. They were willing to accept different opinions and then to seek out common ground to build on.

Way too often, we think the only solution to a hostile problem is guns and ammo. The art of negotiation too often is left off the table. But it works more than it fails. 

Hotheads with weapons who shout back and forth at each other get all the attention. Very few back-room deals seem to work in our time.

That’s why we need the Carter Center and organizations like it that work for peace. ”The first person who raises a fist is the person who has run out of ideas,” said British novelist H.G. Wells. 

The Carter Center’s mission is to open the fist and then to explore every possible opening between hostile nations to uncover a successful settlement.

There’s something about humans and fighting, though, that seems to be part of our DNA. That’s why institutions like the Carter Center are so desperately needed.

If we try to find out why we war, we are wasting our time. There’s an automatic mechanism there that kicks in when we feel threatened, telling us to fight or flee.

Cable news show like CNN and Fox News are not helpful. Matter of fact, they are part of the problem. The hateful rhetoric from the news commentators and guests keep stirring an already over-heated pot.

Not a single problem in our country can be solved by political argument. Heated disagreements between the two major parties may be great for TV ratings, or to feed loyal followers, but they leave the majority of viewers empty and dismayed. 

Perhaps we could use a Cronkite Center to help find common ground among the cable news networks. Somewhere between conservative and liberal. 

Let the Carter Center seek world peace. Let the Cronkite Center, named for CBS’s rational newscaster, seek news channel peace.

Let everyone of party loyalty come together with common goals — to end the bickering political fights and to tolerate differences of opinion with civil discourse.  Let civility return to the debates. Do it out of love of country. No more hateful, put-down words. I know this is a big request in this age of hostile disagreement.

But if we can begin to bridge our political divide, we stand a chance of once again becoming the light of freedom for a chaotic world our forefathers envisioned.

Pogo of the comic strip said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” But there is something greater for us to embrace: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email is r.morris@ctvea.net. 

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