In January 2017, I said on ABC News that America had not been this divided since the Civil War, and the last two plus years has confirmed this conclusion numerous times. We are divided in so many different ways today – by sex, party, age, race, religion and region.
While we have not taken up arms against each other as happened in the battle to save the Union, words of hate and contempt proliferate, and we are again in a different kind of fight to save the Union.
The presidential election of 2020 is going to be a poignant and historic moment to see if we can begin to heal these divides and breathe new vigor into this great experiment of democracy and to see if we can rebuild the bonds of our American family. Thus one of the characteristics I am looking for as we all peruse whom to vote for is who can best bring a healing vision to our country.
I have read much about the effects of trauma on individuals, and have experienced some of this trauma myself -- through divorce, the loss of two children, the loss of a younger sister to drug addiction, the jettisoning of a political career when I publicly broke with President George W. Bush, and in watching how our politics has caused rifts in my own family.
One thing I have come to believe is that trauma can occur privately and personally to each of us, and it can occur publicly and in a more broad way to us as a community. Wounds we carry with us affect not only our own daily lives; we are also impacted as a group when leaders bully, divide, push hate and inspire not love, but fear.
From a public sense, these wounds are real. And just as we have a choice to heal our own private wounds and come through it all as more compassionate and empathetic and less judgmental, seeking to enlarge our hearts through love and kindness, so too politically do we have a choice to try and heal wounds writ large. And those are the leaders America needs at this point in our history.
Who are the leaders who will push for love instead of hate? Who are the leaders who seek consensus and the common good -- and not division and what is best for only a small group of Americans? Who understands that we need to retain the values of antiquity like integrity and compassion while understanding that we are in a transformative moment where the current problems can't be solved with old solutions?
Let us look for leaders who have developed a language of union and peace rooted in their own growth from trauma and wounding. Those leaders who have overcome loss, who grew up with little financially or know they were blessed by the accident of birth and want to share, who have overcome racism or sexism or ageism or any form of discrimination along their journeys. And by overcoming these hurdles, they are less concerned with defeating enemies, but more concerned with bringing us together as a country.
Those leaders that can heal publicly are very likely those leaders who have healed privately through hardship or hate. Seek those leaders who didn't become bitter and whose hearts shrunk, but whose hearts have grown larger and become softer.
I know that everyone might see their own indication of this in many different candidates -- and that is a wonderful thing -- but if one is making a list of criteria of the leaders America needs in this moment, let us put at the top of that list those candidates who reach out beyond boundaries and walls, and who see that we all share a common humanity that includes loss.
Yes, we each have experienced our own distinct traumas -- that is the nature of our humanness and a cruel world at times. But we each also have suffered public trauma in the midst of hate and the terrible divisions which have gripped these United States today.
Let us look for leaders whose purpose they see not as punishing opponents, but as pursuing a path of respect, compassion, and justice for all. This is why Mandela and Lincoln were such important leaders, because they spoke to their countries in an attempt to heal, rather than to ride the existing wave of hate battering the land we all love.
Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.