Last week, I suggested that Communitarianism—the school of political thought championed by, among others, Bill Clinton in the ‘90s—deserves a second look in these fractured, mean-spirited times. It was a philosophy that balanced rights with responsibilities in a “we’re all in this together” ethos, a feeling in short supply these days.
Well, this week, State Treasurer Joe Torsella posted a concession video after his stunning upset loss to Republican Stacy Garrity, and it’s not only required viewing for anyone who pines for character and honor in our politics, it’s also as clear a statement of Communitarian principles as we’ve seen in decades. (It’s also an object lesson for orange-haired narcissists as to how to acknowledge defeat.)
The political class is already mulling over how it was that Torsella, who has been seen as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate or governor, lost.
Some say he was a victim of the deal Tom Wolf cut last year with with the General Assembly to eliminate straight party voting in exchange for funds for new voting machines. Others say that down-ballot candidates like Torsella bore the brunt of rural and suburban backlash to progressive talk of defunding the police and to scenes on their evening news of looting and homeless encampments.
Moreover, for all of Torsella’s talk of “common ground,” he ran into a candidate who smartly borrowed Communitarian language while subtly segregating some among us into otherness, as when, during a Trump rally in Lancaster, Garrity, a retired U.S. Army Reserves colonel, described her native Bradford County home as “a place where we all know each other, we all like each other, we stand for the [national] anthem, we kneel to pray, and when we get back up we look out for one another.”
The analysis of this election is already well under way, and will surely animate our politics moving forward. But maybe that discussion can be informed by the very sentiments expressed by Torsella in his video, a Communitarian call to unity, and to taking a second to listen before blaming.
“I don’t buy that people are as divided as some politicians wish we were,” Torsella says. “For all the selfishness in our politics, we the people have always been able to see the humanity in each other.
That’s why we don’t ask a neighbor in need who they voted for before we lend them a hand. That’s why we pay our taxes and shovel each other’s driveways. And it’s why, even in the darkness of this troubled year, we have been inspired by countless acts of sacrifice, and generosity, and community.
We don’t just do this stuff because we’re nice people. We do it because it’s the only way this American experiment works…When I look around the country right now, I don’t just see a public health crisis or an economic crisis. I see an identity crisis. If that idea that we’re supposed to have each other’s backs continues to disappear from our political consciousness, then we cannot be, and will never be, the America we’ve always hoped we might become.”
Watch the video here and spread it around: