Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres recently called for civility after being shown on-screen with former President Bush at a Dallas Cowboys game.
“During the game, they showed a shot of me and George laughing together. And so, people were upset,” DeGeneres said. “They thought, ‘Why is this gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?’ ”
“Here’s the thing,” she added. “I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK.”
DeGeneres continued: “When I say ‘be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone. Doesn’t matter.”
This small case study is an example of an America today that is more fractured and angry than it may have ever been in my lifetime. Disagreeing with someone does not mean that you can’t be friends with them or be respectful of their beliefs. If we are ever to heal, we have to return to a place of kindness and tolerance.
It’s not just the backlash that Ellen received by sitting with someone who she politically disagrees with at a football game. The local rhetoric has been also building for a while. Comments such as workforce housing being a ghetto (defined as “a part of a city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups”), or placing “vote no” signs targeting a young professional woman running for town council who happens to be of Hispanic descent.
Disappointing? Yes. But it’s more than disappointing; for the first time that I can remember in a local race, it got immensely personal and moved from traditional politics to exhibiting hints of rather overt racism, and it needs to be repeatedly and loudly condemned. We are better than that.
Follow Ellen’s advice to be kind, even to those (or especially to those) you disagree with. The fact is that doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but sometimes it is. This is one of those times; all candidates, and all members of our community, should publicly decry the lack of decorum and racism exhibited recently. We are better than that.
Why does the chamber of commerce care about this? Our guiding principle is to promote the economic vitality of Eagle County and in turn solidify an economic base that is strong, diverse, and resilient. Our efforts – public policy, economic & tourism development, business services and workforce programming – are about building sustainable communities that can thrive indefinitely.
Sustainable and successful communities need to be inclusive and welcoming. It’s hard to fathom that the national rhetoric and polarization has reached Happy Valley, yet we target workforce housing as ‘ghettos’ and we have ‘campaign’ signs negatively targeting candidates popping up. We are better than that.
Efforts to strengthen our economy in diverse, collaborative, and sustainable ways that fit the particular context of our communities remains paramount. We must actively work together to address the many issues facing us. Consider our litany of challenges: macro-economic issues, climate change, transportation challenges, workforce housing shortages, healthcare costs, early childhood access, and immigration challenges.
Vail voters, please go to the polls in November and show that the community does not support those who seek polarization within the community. Show that we are, in fact, better than that.
Chris Romer is president & CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at VailValleyPartnership.com