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Gresik: Barbara Bush’s funeral offers moment of political unity

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Sometimes I worry that all hope of political reconciliation has been lost and that citizens of our country only see one another in terms of political affiliation instead of as Americans. Sometimes it seems like simple gestures of kindness and humility — those “faith in humanity restored” moments — are so few and far between, as if the endless vitriol spilling from the posts of keyboard warriors is all that remains of once-civilized conversation and disagreement.

That’s why I was surprised to find an elusive moment of harmony on Twitter (of all places) this past weekend.

It was a simple photo of eight well-dressed individuals, smiling and relaxed as if it were a meeting of old friends. In it, two political parties are represented. There are four presidents: a father and son duo, former governors and the first black man to hold the office. There is an immigrant, as well as the first female presidential nominee of a major party and a librarian who, like her late mother-in-law, has worked to increase literacy rates among children. One of these people returned to the United States a war hero; another grew up on the South Side of Chicago.

It is the now-viral photo of former presidents and first ladies coming together at Barbara Bush’s funeral. The photographer, Paul Morse, who worked in the George H.W. Bush White House, said, “It was very natural and not forced at all. They were very happy to do (the picture).”

This is a photo where a defining characteristic of our great republic, the peaceful transition of power, meets the people assuming our elected offices. Labels aside, this select group had come together to honor the passing of one of their own.

“Refreshing. Inspiring. To see in a time of great loss, politics and agendas can take a back seat to respect,” one Twitter user remarked. Another said, “There’s a civility and rare understanding that exists among former Presidents and First Ladies regardless of politics.”

It is encouraging to see a unique respect that transcends political lines, geographic origins and mother tongues. Something in coming together and recognizing the humanity in one another allows me to take a step back from the polarization of the current political climate. So, next time I am tempted to fire back a bellicose reply on Twitter or stoke the flames of partisan politics, I hope to remember the grace shown by our former presidents and first ladies: you can hold steadfast beliefs and defend them, all while respecting the person on the other side.

It can be difficult to recognize another person’s humanity from the other side of a computer screen. But it is heartening to know that these men and women, who have been at the center of some of the most polarizing debates of our time and have held some of the nation’s highest offices, are willing to put aside their differences to see each other as humans instead of political entities.

As the late former first lady Barbara Bush put it so well: “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people — your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.”

Dylan Gresik is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at dylangresik2020@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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