Americans' interest in politics has surged. Thank President Trump: COLUMN

Matthew Dowd on why we still have reason to be optimistic about the U.S.

This weekend I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of folks in the amazing town where I live on the Blanco River in, Wimberley, Texas. Folks came to hear my perspective on politics and where we are as a country today. The organizers had expected 40 or 50 folks, and more than triple that turned out so they had to move rooms. They tried to give me the credit for the wonderful turnout, but as I said in my opening remarks, “You all can thank President Trump for this amazing turnout!”

While over the past year I have been a consistent critic of our current president for his words and actions, we must give him props for reengaging the American citizenry in their interest in politics and the common good.

More and more people are discussing politics and the leadership our country needs than I have ever seen before in my adult life. In almost every single special election that has been held since President Trump took office, there have been record turnouts across America. And I expect this midterm election to set turnout records across the country. That is a fabulous thing. Thank you President Trump.

At this gathering at a Mexican restaurant in the hill country of Texas where I live, I reminded folks of a few things.

Democracy is a gift and not a given. We have faced times in our history before with this level of disruption and divisiveness, and we were able to get through it. But there was no guarantee that we would because our republic could have easily fallen and our democracy become corrupted. In order for us as a country to continue to succeed, individuals in communities across America must stand up and take a stand. And we must elect leaders who believe in integrity and who put country ahead of party.

I mentioned that we must stop “ends justify the means” behavior and words that have so infected our politics and now our governance. Running campaigns and legislative agendas that only pursue marginal victories of 50 percent plus one has contributed to where we stand today. We must purse a politics that embraces the vast majority of the country and fix our means of governing. We should stop arguing about the ends of what we want in policy and begin to build places where we connect with one another, communicate with respect, and all put our tribes behind and embrace the common good. I believe if the means are good, then the ends will be just fine.

Our democracy depends on a robust freedom of the press. Today, the press is one of the last institutions that is still holding power accountable and on a daily basis pursuing the truth. Democracy depends on all of us seeking the common good, and we can’t have a common good without a common set of facts. The press is instrumental in ensuring we all have some basis in a set of facts. Attacks on the free press are an attack on our republic. Yes, we in the media sometimes get things wrong, but when we do we have to be willing to correct it and do better. Nearly all the folks I know in the press do just that. One would hope this White House would do the same, but they don’t. This administration doubles down on their dishonesty and then attacks the press.

While in the short term it appears that hate and appeals to fear are successful, they are a strategy that hurts our country and are bound to fail in the long term. The answer to hate and darkness is not an opposing hate and darkness. The answer is light and love. Yes, we can get angry about corruption, dishonesty and injustice, but we must move from that anger to constructive models founded in hope and compassion. Political parties and candidates make a big mistake using tactics of fear to combat tactics of fear. For the sake of our country we must rise above those methods and make appeals to the angels of people’s better natures. The folks who showed up in Wimberley came together not because they hate someone but because they love our country and the communities they call home.

The best way to bridge the divides in America is to seek out leaders who culturally fit their communities and states, and who know that the status quo is broken and we need innovative solutions to fix our ongoing problems. Using stale solutions that have driven the parties to hold onto past victories is a recipe for inaction. Let us get past the debate of big government versus tax cuts for the wealthy. That is not working. America is not the same country it was in the 1950s, 1960s or 1980s, and we must have leaders who recognize that reality and who are willing to be open about creative solutions that work. We can do this if we understand why some in America have a fear of change and we each must have empathy for the other. One great divide in our country today is an “empathy divide.” Before we get into a political debate, we must realize that we share common joys and sorrows and connect in a place of heart.

I am a hopeful optimist to my core and believe the best times for America are ahead even as we are in the midst of this incredible disruption and at times destructive change. I see in people I meet every day in towns across America the hunger for a new brand of leadership based in caring for our fellow men and women and in the basic goodness of human beings. Leaders in Washington, D.C., never lead, they follow. They follow us flawed individuals who are willing to make strong stands based in love. The best leaders figure that out and get a half step ahead of where the country already is directing them.

We can do this, let’s show them the way, whether it is in Wimberley or Washington or wherever you are from.