Searching for a Hero/Villain to Unite America

Even after coming together on 9/11, the nation remains divided.

— -- "Two kingdoms. ... Only a great hero or a terrible villain might bring them together."

This weekend, I took my daughter to the wonderful Disney movie "Maleficent," produced by ABC News' parent company, and enjoyed it thoroughly, but the line above struck me and it made me think about America today and about leadership. So many of us are looking to have the word "united" practiced more in the United States in order to address all our hopes and dreams and needs. But for the last 10 years we seem to be coming up empty at the box office of politics whenever we choose our leaders.

Today in America, we have a part of the country that sees President Obama as a great hero (mostly hardcore Democrats) and part of the country sees him as a terrible villain (mostly hardcore Republicans). This is almost a mirror image of how things were when President George W. Bush held the nation's highest office. Most Democrats despised him and most Republicans loved him -- again one part saw him as a villain, the other part viewed him as a hero.

We are a country today torn into separate kingdoms of party, of race, of sex, and of income levels -- each side without trust of the other, and each in search of a leader who can take us forward and bind us together as one. The question becomes: What type of leader can make this to happen or what events will continue to transpire that can push us in this direction boldly?

For a time after the terrible events of 9/11, a common awful villain united our disparate kingdom. Terrorists caused our country to pull together as one against a common enemy, but this didn't last long because we still searched for our hero in leadership. President Bush squandered this opening by using the existing political capital in divisive, error-prone and partisan ways. And soon, we fell back into two separate kingdoms separated by partisanship and in many other ways.

When President Obama first was elected to office, the country had great hope that a new transformational leader the likes of which we had not seen would bring us together. He, too, had tremendous political capital at the beginning with high approval ratings and acceptance but, like his predecessor, he practiced a partisan leadership that drove the country even further apart. President Obama ran against the villain of Washington, D.C., and became all of what most voters despise about federal leadership today.

Each of us contains both hero and villain. We each have a dark side and we each have a light side. We are each part sinner and part saint. We hold ideals and values in our hearts and souls, but at times we practice in the world in a way that seems we are more in tune with our basest desires. We want to love openly and care widely, but we are filled with fear and don't want to lose. So we feel divided and in conflict, thinking we have to choose between hero and villain. But the path to unity is not denying each side but resolving this paradox internally.

It is incumbent on each of us in our own journeys to embrace this paradox and realize we are both -- and then, from this resolution, to begin to lead our own lives in a new way, in a way that accepts our light and our dark, and know that we each aren't all good or all bad. We would then be able to see that each other has a similar dynamic, and to hold our values at our center and move into the flawed world with the knowledge that we are all on the same path struggling with this paradox. We must lead in this way before we vest in another president a power of leadership to help all of us.

Once we can do that, then we will be more open to the types of leaders who can be successful at uniting our warring kingdoms, a leader in Washington, D.C., who embraces our highest and heavenly ideals and who is also versed in the tactics of succeeding here on this Earth in a practical way, a leader who is both sinner and saint, who has the heart of an angel, and who can dance with the devil.

At the conclusion of the movie "Maleficent," all was resolved and the fighting parties came together. As the narrator said, "In the end, my kingdom was not united by a hero or a villain as legend predicted, but by one who was both hero and villain."

We must first do this for ourselves in our own lives, and then look for that in our country's leaders -- hero and villain.

There you have it.

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