As we enter this New Year, the election is finally over and COVID-19 vaccines are making their slow creep across our country. While we grapple with how imperiled we are and what got us here, my fervent hope is that we can now turn our attention to what our country desperately needs: a moral reset.
I’ve watched with horror our institutions being destroyed, the press vilified, truth and science undermined, empathy eradicated, people of responsibility abdicating, meanness rewarded, and I’ve longed for someone with the authority and moral stature to stand up and say, “No, this is not right,” and we heed. Our country is at a reflection point and what we do next will either spark our recovery or ignite America’s second civil war. Right now, we are all barreling along, planting our flags where we can, busy with battles big and small; but we must not miss that if we don’t fundamentally change how we all have been behaving toward one another, nothing will change. And we have to finally admit we need help. We need a higher power. We must find our moral leader, the moral leader for all of us.
These four years have acutely laid bare that we need a person we can turn to; a unifying force who, with wisdom and candor, will guide us to our better selves, to be better than ourselves. This person will start from the standpoint that to coexist peacefully we have to accept we all have the right to exist. That, once and for all, that isn’t political opinion, it’s the floor of basic human decency.
This moral beacon can’t be an elected official, so suspect we are of the other side. No, our new moral leader won’t be drawn into partisan fights or petty attacks but instead be the person who lowers our temperatures and helps focus us. It will be a prophet, not a profiteer, who makes us understand that our prosperity is rooted in our healing. Someone who chimes in when called for, not the insistent tweeter frantically monitoring social media always at the ready to jump into every conflict and daily dust-up. We don’t need them to opine on everything but more importantly to clarify for us what is indeed important; someone who chooses both their words and when to use them with care and precision.
It can’t be a clergy person who hails from a religion predicated on exclusion. It’s not God; too many insist God’s only on their side. We need the person who can heal the cancer, the hate, that has grown in each of us and help us replace it with love. Not the cutesy-hashtag kind but the all-encompassing kind. Love as the filter to which everything else you think springs, love that makes you want for everyone else what you crave for yourself, love that makes you feel the pain someone else feels.
This moral touchstone will be the cheerleader on the sidelines of our lives to help lead our families to rapprochement after four years of painful discord. We need this person because we desperately need to get out of our own way. We have so cornered ourselves into believing we are right, believing we know best. What if we had someone show us what was best for all of us and made us believe it too? Imagine if we found someone we could agree knows more than we do. We need someone to set us free, to think anew. Our ability to authentically react has atrophied; we’re too concerned that our reaction might move us off our hard-won gains and timeworn opinions. We won’t let up so as not to give in so as not lose an inch so as not to fall behind. Our moral leader will lift us up and out of our daily poisonous battles to a higher common ground. Our moral leader needs to be curious because we have all lost our curiosity. We no longer care to know what we don’t know, to know the people who aren’t our people. We’re hunkered down and overwrought. Noise has become the soundtrack of our lives.
My hope is we usher in the New Year rising from the ashes of our near-ruined nation with a figure of historic dimension; a person that inoculates us against the worst of our nature and delivers us to the land of reason, truth, kindness, and care. The search is on for our person. Or is it all of us?
Richie Jackson is the author of Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son, published by HarperCollins. He is an award-winning Broadway, television, and film producer who most recently produced the Tony Award-nominated Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song on Broadway. He executive produced Showtime’s Nurse Jackie for seven seasons and co-executive produced the film Shortbus, written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell. He and his husband, Jordan Roth, live in New York City with their two sons.