We need Maine’s highly respected former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell to come out of retirement and show the country how to make peace in this time of internal struggle.
Mitchell did it as Senate majority leader from 1989-1995, when congressional Republicans and Democrats actually worked together for the good of the country.
He did it in 1998 in Northern Ireland – that eponymous land of anger that became a principality of peace after he negotiated an end to “The Troubles.”
Mitchell also did it with Major League Baseball about 10 years later, when he ushered America’s pastime through a debilitating scandal involving use of steroids.
He even wrote a 2015 book, “The Negotiator, A Memoir,” detailing his efforts at the bargaining table. So, if anyone can bring peace between conservatives and liberals here in America, our Maine man George Mitchell can.
Somebody has to try.
After a harrowing first six weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, we seem to have gone from bad to worse in the political divide. Marchers and liberal pundits pounce on everything Trump and his team do. They say he’s a narcissist taking us down a fascist path.
Meanwhile, Trump supporters remain resolute in their belief that Trump will make America great again. In Trump, they see someone draining the swamp in Washington, D.C., and kicking up a stink similar to Portland’s Back Cove at low tide.
Trump elicits either full support or total rejection. You either love him or hate him. Because he is so polarizing, the growing political discord is tearing at the nation’s social fabric. Talking politics at work, in church or in the home risks confrontation and alienation. I heard one commentator say the gulf between left and right could lead to a civil war. That’s grossly over-dramatizing the issue, but it’s probably fair to say liberals and conservatives are finding it hard to remain friendly.
And the issues that divide us seem to be irreconcilable. How do you find middle ground, for example, when it comes to abortion or illegal immigration? How do you get both sides to compromise when issues seem so black and white?
If anyone can bring peace, or at least some sanity, Mitchell can.
In 1995, as a special envoy appointed by President Bill Clinton, Mitchell personally worked to bring together the various political parties in Northern Ireland, as well as Irish and English representatives, to eventually sign the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. The Waterville native – and son of an Irish immigrant father, who as an orphan was raised by a Lebanese family and worked as a Colby College janitor – led all sides to what has been a miraculous and lasting peace.
Those who remember the many bombings and assassinations in Northern Ireland are still amazed the process brought an end to generations-old hostilities based on religion and sovereignty. This was Mitchell’s biggest achievement, one that Mainers can all be proud of, no matter their political stripe.
In 2006, Mitchell was tapped by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to investigate steroid use by players. Mitchell produced a 409-page report about a year later that detailed the extensive problem and named 89 drug-enhanced players, including Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. That must have been a tough job. While no one wanted to know their favorite player was a cheat, Mitchell’s work helped clean up the sport.
Fresh off those two solid successes, Mitchell next tried bringing peace between Palestinians and Israelis. President Barack Obama tapped Mitchell in 2009 to meet with both sides and leaders of other countries in the Arab world in hope of bringing peace to the region. Despite two years of concerted effort, that peace process eluded Mitchell. No one is perfect – we’ll forgive him for not being able to solve a riddle of biblical proportions.
Mitchell’s specialty is finding common ground among bitter rivals. Upon accepting the Liberty Medal in 1998 for the Northern Ireland deal, he said, “I believe there’s no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended. They’re created and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings. No matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how hateful, no matter how hurtful, peace can prevail.”
The conflict between American liberals and conservatives, which has been ancient, hateful and hurtful, needs someone with Mitchell’s wisdom and tact to find resolution.
I grew up watching Mitchell in the Senate. He and his fellow Democrats weren’t my favorite politicians, since they never met a regulation they didn’t like. But compared to the ugly politics of the Obama years, they were shining examples of bipartisanship. Mitchell has since transcended politics with his negotiating prowess and, as one of the nation’s wise elder statesmen, needs to use his stature and abilities to work peace here in his own country.
John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.