A Higher Allegiance

A Higher Allegiance

Whether we vote red or blue, we are all Americans.

If you’re reading this article in late October or early November, the election will be consuming the headlines, most advertising time, and water cooler discussions. I don’t know about you, but I have heard enough political mud-slinging to give me politics indigestion forever—or at least another four years. Negative attack ads are more prevalent than ever. They are intended to distort truth and confuse voters, and cost billions of dollars to produce and run. Political analysts try to predict results well before Election Day, making voters feel useless. And the candidates have made so many promises, it’s hard to believe any of them will ever come to pass. If you’re like me, you’re generally disappointed in politics, angry at the distortions and lies, appalled at the money spent, and just plain fed up.

But then I remind myself that no matter how ugly this process may seem, people living under oppressive regimes such as those in Iran and Syria can only dream of this privilege. I am humbled when I think about fallen soldiers who have given their lives for my freedom to vote. I am filled with wonder at the wisdom of our founding fathers, who lived under an oppressive monarchy and envisioned a republic based on the democratic process.

That’s when I close my eyes and think of the big picture. I realize no matter which side of the aisle we believe has the right answers, no matter whether we are middle class, wealthy, or poor, and no matter what race or religion we may be, we are all still Americans who share common goals and dreams. Even if we debate and disagree on issues and methods, we should respect each other as an allegiance of brothers and sisters.

The campaigns become so divisive that we tend to focus on our differences instead of what we have in common. Just a few months ago, we weren’t focused on a U.S. map divided into red or blue states, we were cheering for red, white, and blue Americans. The Olympics are a perfect example of our best young men and women coming together, not because of political beliefs, but to represent one united country. Even the most stoic athletes got tears in their eyes when a medal was hung around their neck as the Star Spangled Banner played. It’s always an emotional moment for me to witness.

Why do they cry? I think it’s because they realize how lucky they are to represent our great nation and how proud they are to be Americans. I remember hearing an interview with Michael Jordan, when a reporter asked him what the highlight of his career was. Of all of his accomplishments, he said it was winning an Olympic gold medal, but he didn’t realize how important that was until he was on the medal stand and heard the national anthem.

Another recent event that reminded me of our American allegiance was in early September when I read a Star Tribune article about 1,500 people who had been sworn in as new U.S. citizens at the Minneapolis Convention Center—the largest naturalization ceremony in Minnesota history. The article said that another swearing-in ceremony a few weeks later was expected to draw an equally large crowd.

I was moved as I read about the new citizens, including a woman from El Salvador who said she had become a citizen so she could participate in the upcoming election. Another new citizen was a young Marine who wants to become an officer (citizenship required). And another man, a native of Liberia who is now a pastor in Robbinsdale, said, “I want to be a part of that process in deciding which direction this country goes. My kids will grow up here.”

It was inspiring for me to think about the Minneapolis Convention Center filled with people who went through the naturalization process so that they could vote. So many people born with that freedom take it for granted and get caught up in a divisive campaign instead.

I recently had the opportunity to tour the Hoover Dam. What an engineering feat! One can’t help but be impressed when you see it holding back the mighty Colorado River, especially when you realize it was built in the 1930s with equipment that is archaic by today’s standards.

But what impressed me the most was that the Hoover Dam was built in only four years, in a collaborative effort between the government and private enterprise—an American government working with American workers and business to accomplish something really amazing. It says a lot about America’s ability to get things done when we make a decision to work together. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like we have that same cooperative spirit today.

President Abraham Lincoln probably knew better than anyone in our history about the importance of committing to an American allegiance to bring about healing. He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and that still rings true today.

After November 6, whether you voted for “blue” or “red” candidates, just remember that in the end we are all red, white, and blue, and we are living together in the greatest country on this beautiful planet, with freedoms that most people around the world can only dream of. Especially as business leaders, we enjoy the rights and freedoms to create and build businesses, make a profit, create jobs for others, and push innovation forward. It is for these reasons that each day I thank God I am an American.

Mark W. Sheffert, chairman and CEO of Manchester Companies, Inc., provides investment banking and corporate renewal/performance advisory services. Contact him at mark@manchestercompanies.com.