COLUMN: A call for calm and compassion in these turbulent political times

We should seek to innovate while being inspired by the values of old.

ByMatthew Dowd
July 18, 2017, 4:55 PM

— -- Sometimes you just have to take a little break, a breather, and reconnect with what matters and your own heart or soul in the midst of the bickering and bullying, the constant chatter of cable news and the torrent of tweets coming from every direction, especially from our president. In those moments of pause, we often gain a little perspective and can see things in a slightly different way.

I went to Michigan to hang with family and decided to venture over to Western Michigan to sit by the beautiful lake, in an area first inhabited by the Hopewell Indians (always a good sign when hope and well have deep roots here). My 10 brothers and sisters and I used to go to Lake Michigan for brief vacations with my mom and dad when we were growing up in and around Detroit, so it holds many memories for me. This trip, I decided to stay somewhere I had never stayed: the historic Lakeside Inn, which is built on a bluff overlooking the lake in the town of Lakeside. The lake was carved out of the earth thousands of years ago by glaciers, which deposited stones and sand I walked on as I watched the sun set.

In the wood-floored ballroom of the inn, you can almost feel the presence of guests who have walked these creaky floors since the late 1800s — including, rumor has it, Al Capone, on breaks from his Chicago chicanery to drink and gamble. There is a great sense of calm and quiet about this place as you listen to the waves hitting the shore, and you know this building has been through many transitions but retains its foundations and traditions.

While the inn has gone through tons of changes, the current owners restored it to its glory early-1900s glory. While returning it to the way it was nearly a hundred years ago with furnishings and comforts of that day, they modernized it so it has what visitors of today have come to expect in an updated living space. That includes Wi-Fi, so while you are getting in touch with your inner self, you can also stay in touch with the chaotic movements of the outside world.

In the midst of my short stay here and reflecting on all of the above, five reflective points that came to me:

1. We should seek to innovate while being inspired by the values of old. Yes, we must disrupt the broken-down parts of our politics and government and modernize them so they meet people where they are today. However, we need to keep traditions of antiquity that help us relate to one another with peace, compassion and respect. Modern conveniences do us no good if we can't even trust or embrace one another in fellowship and mutual respect.

2. Change has come and will continue, but sometimes it seems to move at the pace of a glacier, and that is often the best way to create what works and what lasts. Because of technology, we are used to speed, and we hunger for quick fixes, but we must remember nations and communities are not built over hours but over decades. Democrats, as they take on President Trump, would do well to remember this. A recent ABC poll shows that while Trump is incredibly unpopular, a majority believe Democrats stand only against Trump and not for anything. While in the very short term that might be helpful, in the long run, if they want the power of a glacier, they should take the time and enunciate a positive vision for the country.

3. Social media is not the problem in and of itself, but the manner in which we use it may be. Just as the invention of books, radio and television altered society dramatically, Facebook and Twitter are powerful communication tools. Their positive contribution depends completely on how we use them. As the president demonstrates daily, they can create a lot of attention and discussion. But the vast majority of the country believes his use of social media isn't helpful. Why? Because any successful use of media depends on spending the time to reflect and contemplate before we take the action of sending a message. Trump impulsively communicates, without any seeming reflection, and it has hurt his presidency considerably. Social media, like all forms of mass communication, has incredible power, but the key is being mindful before moving to the keyboard.

4. Life seems to invariably be a "the more things change, the more things stay the same" play. I was first inspired to get into politics on one of our family's vacations to this Great Lake when, as a 12-year-old, I watched the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1973. In a poll out this week, we see that 41 percent of the country thinks Trump should be impeached. In the summer of 1973 during Watergate, only 24 percent of voters thought Richard Nixon should be impeached. In 1973, Nixon's job approval was at 44 percent, 20 points higher than the percentage who thought he should be removed from office. Today, Trump's approval of 37 percent is 4 points lower than his impeachment number. Like Nixon, his GOP voters are anchored in support of him, with overwhelming job approval from the base: Only 8 percent of Republicans thought Nixon should be impeached, and today 12 percent think Trump should be. In many ways, partly because of the tribal nature of the country today, Trump is in much worse shape than Nixon. But like Nixon, his fan club stays strong.

5. There has been one huge change since I was on family vacation 44 years ago: You can see demographic shifts speedily happening all over the country, including in this small community. I walked by a Latino couple working in the yard of a very expensive lakefront property, I drove by cars with large rainbow flags on their back windshields, and I saw many notices for yoga studios, vegan and gluten-free food stores and spirituality workshops. Demographic and cultural change has inexorably been coming throughout our country, and it has caused fear, anxiety and anger in many who liked it the way it was. Throughout our land, there is a political battle going on involving geography and demography. Leaders of today need to figure out new ways to bridge the divide between the transformation that is well on its way and those who fear that this change is a fundamental disruption to their way of life.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and a special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.

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