Following Watergate, Gerald Ford took the oath of office and stated, “Our long national nightmare is over.”

The intolerably lengthy election season has now ended, and we must reflect on another presidential campaign beset at all times by acrimony, hostility, pettiness and an elevation of made-for-television scandal over sober discussion of how officials can make policy to improve America.

In his speech, Ford also said, “Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men.”

It has never been more important that the Constitution works. It has never been more important to confirm that we have a government of laws and not men. And yet, more than any year, I fear that this past election reveals a fragility to those notions and a threat to their endurance.

We have seen a level of anger, hate, distaste for institutions and overall disrespect for one another that tears at the very fabric of society. Sure, it has been around for a while, but this year it feels like we are creating fissures that are irreparable.

For years, as gerrymandering has sent both sides to the extremes of their parties to be re-elected, members of Congress demonstrate an unwillingness and/or inability to work together.

At the state level, the governor has an abnormally itchy veto trigger finger, and has demonstrated a patent unwillingness to meaningfully interact with those who — regardless of party — even mildly disagree with him.

In the Lewiston-Auburn community, despite being culturally, geographically, economically and historically bonded, some municipal leaders have accentuated division in an attempt to score cheap political points. They malign years of hard work by those who have forged the bonds of collaboration between individuals and institutions on both sides of the Androscoggin River.

We have a moment here for deep reflection.

There are two paths we could follow. We could exacerbate the acrimony by further binding ourselves in our ideologies and interacting only with those whom we agree. We could increase the divide between people by criticizing those whom we perceive to be our opponents as ineffective, disinterested, stupid, manipulative and selfish. We could blame each other for our own feelings of inadequacy or helplessness. We could reject opportunities for collaboration and opt to “go it alone,” for no better reason than a history of irrational distrust and assertions that things aren’t changing fast enough.

Or, we could go a different direction.

We could reach out our hands to our neighbors and trust that what unites us is much greater than what divides us, and it is our solemn obligation as neighbors to earnestly and infinitely seek to bridge those divisions.

We should compromise. We should listen. We should judge not lest we be judged and open ourselves to the notion that our ideas are not always right, and our opponent’s ideas are not always wrong.

Most importantly, I submit, we should realize that we are better together. Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians and independents. Liberals, conservatives and moderates; black, white and brown; the people of Auburn and Lewiston — we are better together.

Next November, residents of the Twin Cities will consider whether the governmental apparatuses of Lewiston and Auburn should be one. I do not, through this article, take a position on whether that should happen. I honestly haven’t decided yet whether it should.

I do think, regardless of whether the two governments merge, we are and will remain inextricably connected in all aspects of our lives. Those connections, whether formally codified in our laws, will continue to exist. What we make of those connections is up to us. We are allowed to disagree. We are allowed to argue. We should. But those arguments should be productive. They should yield a benefit. And they should be backgrounded by an understanding that none of us is going away. Your Democratic sister is not going away. Your Republican uncle is not going away. Your Libertarian nephew is not going away. And your Green neighbor is not going away.

The people of Auburn and Lewiston — all of us — aren’t going away. It is all of us, learning together, living together, working together, and compromising together, that will ultimately improve our situation and ourselves.

Let us each resolve that we are willing to work with anyone and everyone who wants to see our country, our state and most especially — because in the end it is what we can most meaningfully effect — Auburn and Lewiston, improve.

Adam R. Lee is an attorney at Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette and a former Auburn City Councilor.

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