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As President Joe Biden heads out to rally the world, our biggest vulnerability is ourselves.
As aides to two very different presidents, both of us sat in G7 meetings, organized press coverage for bilateral meetings with Russia, and attended NATO defense meetings. We came away with a shared perspective: The rights and freedoms Americans take for granted each day are precious, and also incredibly fragile.
These rights are so fragile, in fact, that they risk crumbling if our nation continues on its current course, where many of us not only can’t have civil conversations any more – we can’t even disagree about the same basic facts.
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As political appointees of presidents who could not be more in contrast – politically and stylistically – many would like to say that we’re on different teams. One Trump, one Obama. White House aides who shaped coverage of very different leaders.
Our nation is failing by not listening
Yet, both of us have left our experiences with the same conclusion: that our nation is failing by not listening. By working together, we have strength, and that strength is faltering, and a nation divided will fail – perhaps sooner than you might think.
This is as important as ever, as President Biden attends his first G7, a gathering of the world’s economic powers. In this environment, with all that is going on inside our country, we have to consider what the world thinks of us.
World leaders doubt the United States more than ever, and in our discourse and our divisions, they see traits that are hallmarks of less stable, less free places.
We have no shortage of opinions about President Biden in our country. Democrats complain that he should go at it alone in Washington, get things done, and not wait to negotiate with Republicans on infrastructure. Their position is that reform will happen only if one party in a very slim majority asserts its power.
For their part, Republicans complain that Biden is weak, that he needs to do more to stand up to China, that he won’t negotiate with Republicans, and that he is adding to the division.
But the problem isn’t President Biden. It’s us. All of us.
We’re so divided as a nation that we can’t have civil conversations – can’t agree on basic facts on things we all saw, like the Capitol insurrection. We don’t look at the vulnerabilities of our division. And too often we don’t see the other side for their humanity, or that at our core, we all want America to be the best it can be.
And America’s adversaries are more than happy to take advantage of this division to drive a further wedge between Americans. America’s adversaries weaponize our domestic disagreements to turn neighbor against neighbor, Republican against Democrat, and American against American. That division has so deeply permeated our public policy that even on matters so fundamental to the U.S.' interests and future, we can’t begin to find common ground.
A diverse democracy? That means disagreeing on some fundamental things while working together on others.
There are a lot of reasons both sides have to distrust.
Both of us are millennials – raised in the shadow of President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Both of us came of age at a time where we learned more about the President’s sex life than the substance of global debate. And both of us went to Washington expecting something to be done for our communities – one from Galesburg, Ill., which faced a vanishing base of manufacturing jobs, and one as a child of immigrants in California seeking freedom. Both of us saw the resistance on the other side.
But we can talk to each other. And we can disagree and work together.
Somewhere in there, we learned that resistance alone never works for the American people.
Diversity, vibrancy, debate keys to U.S. strength
America must not be a nation divided, nor a nation that retreats to its corners. We’re a republic with shared values: we are only as healthy as the least among us, we are only as educated as the least among us, and we are only as housed as the least among us. And diversity, vibrancy and intellectual debate are keys to our strength.
We might have different routes to where individual liberty thrives – one more reliant on the government moving the scales, one more reliant on the private sector leading the way. But we all want liberty, freedom, justice and progress for our people.
The existential problems of our time will not be solved on merely partisan grounds. They won’t be solved by refusing to talk to the other side. Millions of Americans are still unemployed or underemployed from the pandemic. Violence in too many communities goes unsolved and unaddressed in any credible manner. And America’s kids have suffered. We have an education gap in our country and are falling behind world standards.
As President Biden takes to the world stage, as the leader of the free world, our hope is that in the U.S. we reflect on the responsibility that comes with that title. Too often, we forget that our democratic republic is fragile. The minute we stop being able to see the other side of the aisle as Americans with a valid voice in our political debates, and instead as enemies to be stopped and silenced, we lose what it is to be Americans.
Alyssa Farah served as communications director for President Donald Trump. Johanna Maska served as director of press advance for President Barack Obama.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: G7 summit: Joe Biden's biggest challenge is American divisiveness