Two Thoughts At Once
In the New York Times on December 5, Frank Bruni makes the point that in describing the legacy of George H. W. Bush, there are positives and negatives. Both are worthy of description when recounting his presidency. More importantly, describing his triumphs (The Gulf War, the end of the Cold War and his reversal on his pledge of “no new taxes that probably saved the economy) as well as his shortfalls (the heinous Willy Horton ad, his insensitivity to the plight of those suffering from AIDS, and his wonder at the magic of a super market scanner) makes the President all the more human. And he was a great MAN.
Mr. Bruni starts his piece off with the recounting of how a well-known liberal, Bryan Behar, was lambasted by his Twitter followers for praising the life of 41. The point he makes is that it is possible for a person to both agree and disagree with another human at the same time. We should be able to hold opposing thoughts in our heads simultaneously. In fact, it is very important that we do and the fact that Americans seem to be doing this poorly of late may explain some of our national stress and our American trend away from nuance.
Mr. Trump seems to paint the whole world in black and white. Either you are for him or you are his enemy, usually acquiring one of his pet names. But that’s ridiculous. All of us have our good and bad moments and the totality of each of us is the sum total of all of that and all of the minutes in between our highs and lows.
This inability to hold two thoughts in our heads at once is what has given birth to the tribalism that seems to characterize our politics. We need to become more comfortable holding two opposing thoughts in our heads at once and to weigh the relative value of the contrasting arguments. We can believe both Christy Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh and still believe that his temperament was not ideal for the country’s highest court. We can both be horrified by the Saudi assassination of the journalist Jamal Kashoggi and admit that we may still have to do business with the people who ordered his execution. Everyone in the real world has to make difficult choices. Making those choices entails thinking about two (or more) alternative courses that may seem both appealing and contradictory. That President Bush 41 could do just that is a mark of both his humanity and his greatness.
The next time you are sure about anything, particularly if someone else is sure that you are wrong, consider the possibility that you are both a little right and a little wrong. It is confusing at times and confounding at others, but it tends to approximate reality more often than not. You’ll still have to make a choice. You may even make the wrong one. But at least you have taken the time to consider your choices and that’s the mark of an adult.
And if President George Herbert Walker Bush was anything, he was always the adult in the room. For that we should all be grateful.