Tito hit me so hard I crossed two time zones before I hit the canvas. After smelling salts snapped me out of my reverie, I realized I had lost. After being helped up, I took Tito’s gloves in mine. “Goo fight,” I tried to say through my half-snapped mouthpiece. Thus did a Chinese kid learn a little about being a good American sport. After the election, can you, like a good sport, Unconditionally, Positively, Respect your opponent?
Current campaigns imitate conflagrations. I work with firefighters who battled Colorado’s 2012 wildfires. The fires took lives, burned 655 homes, torched 213,550 acres, destroyed animals, cost $200 million and blew smoke and ash in our eyes. They came within a mile of adding our home to the 22 that were consumed in our neighborhood.
Our Presidential election consumed ten battleground states, a million attack ads worth a billion clams, years of smears that burned nearly 6 billion bucks (1) and made political spit-ball a routine American Olympic event. Vicious accusations punched my ears and yet echo in the small, hollow space between them.
I plead guilty to yearning for an earlier Golden Age. I know we had one – people used to work for a living instead of living to work, and, well, just check my waistline. Jefferson and Adams may have gone to Fist City in 1796, but there were no Presidential fisticuffs in the Fifties. We had polio, segregation, three TV channels and a high risk of nuclear eradication, but the Nation voted for Ike or Adlai without the seething anger, deep-seated hostility and vicious finger-stabs which define today’s differences. Only 7% of us had college degrees. It’s increased almost 400% (2). Now, despite a massive higher education industry and diversity, we act like accusing Javerts instead of forgiving Jean Valjeans. Somewhere, Victor Hugo weeps.
So let’s take a deep, cleansing breath as I introduce you to Professor Edgar Bodenheimer, Holocaust refugee, gentle legal scholar and my law school inspiration. He projected Unconditional Positive Respect, UPR. In fabricated German, it becomes “Ooper.”
Hitler began his persecutions in 1933; Edgar smelled humans burning and fled the Holocaust, landing happily in the US. As an American Nuremberg prosecutor, he made the case of Nazi crimes against humanity. He did it by respecting those who had done unspeakable evil.
His profound humanity dictated that he honor all persons – even those who had slaughtered his family, friends, and millions of innocents, and had made a mockery of civilization.
I can see Prosecutor Bodenheimer, who, in thick socks stood a dignified 5’-6”, facing Nazi Germany’s cruel genocidal murderers. He neither hates nor resents. He does not accuse, attack, rail, rant, blame, raise his modest voice, or tout his wisdom, acumen or intellect.
EDGAR: If you would, please, Mein Herr, tell me what you were thinking prior to your decision to build the shower installations at Dachau?
Can we show that same respect for people of the other party? My natural tendency is to only honor those I like. Ooper – Unconditionally, Positively Respecting those who disagree with me – comes as naturally as a self-performed root canal. Edgar inspired me to be a deputy DA who prosecuted evil doers with unfailing civility. Here’s an example of me cross-examining a defendant charged with despicable crimes, followed by an Edgar Ooper:
ME (NATURAL STATE): You contradicted yourself! Isn’t it true that you’re an inhuman, murderous, rapacious, deceitful, hideously twisted sick sociopath who’s worthy neither of drawing air nor worth the cost of a light bulb in Soledad Prison. (In other words, you’re a member of the opposite party.)
ME (WITH BODENHEIMER OOPER): Thank you, sir. Please tell us what happened next.
The 2016 campaign began earlier this year, but the Hobbesian brutishness of our colluding conflict began much earlier. Like when we carried clubs.
One side accuses the Other of insensitivity, brutishness, greed and cruelty.
The other counter-accuses: stupidity, irresponsibility, waste and hatred of Nation and God. We decry fundamentalism as we become increasingly fundamentalist, accusatory and intolerant.
If you didn’t deeply love the 2012 version, what can you do personally to improve our national civic culture? I challenge everyone on all fifteen sides of the American aisle to demonstrate Ooper – Unconditional Positive Respect – to the fellow Americans with whom you differ. That’s one out of every two of us. Like a boxer and a true American good sport, win or lose, congratulate your opponent for the depth of her convictions. Toast the fact that in the USA, we argue, debate and even rant, and we don’t have to imitate Congress.