This program is read by the author.
When Ohio governor John Kasich ran for president, his powerful message of hope and togetherness struck a chord with American voters. In Two Paths: America Divided or United, he carries that message forward by reflecting on the tumultuous 2016 campaign, sharing his concerns for America and his hopes for our future, and sounding a clarion call to reason and purpose, humility and dignity, righteousness and calm.
“The country never looked so grand and magnificent as it did from ten thousand feet,” he writes of his time on the campaign trail, “and it was always a thrilling, faith-affirming thing to look out our window and see the sun splashing across Bryce Canyon in Utah, or the lights of the New York skyline at night as we flew past the Statue of Liberty, or an open field in the heartland that ran as far as our eyes could see.... I’d look out and think what an honor it would be to lead this great nation, what a blessing.”
To be sure, the full story of the 2016 Presidential race will be written over time, but to understand what it was to be on the front lines of one of the most divisive and corrosive campaign battlegrounds in history, listeners won’t find a richer, more thoughtful firsthand account than this onea frank, refreshing assessment of the American dynamic and a clear path we might follow toward a more promising tomorrow.
As Governor Kasich reminds us in these pages, America is great because America is goodand because Americans have stayed true to who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible.
John Kasich is the Governor of Ohio and a former U.S. presidential candidate. As a U.S. Congressman, he served for 18 years on the Armed Services Committee and was Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee the last time the budget was balanced. His three previous books were all New York Times bestsellers: Courage is Contagious; Stand for Something; and Every Other Monday. He and his wife Karen have twin teenage daughters.
"What Moose, Daddy?"
We live in a post-truth environment.
That's a term I heard throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, long before anyone was talking about "alternative facts," and it set me off. One of the reasons it bothered me, I think, was because it's true. And I have to think that one of the reasons the expression has caught on the way it has — the Oxford English Dictionary named "post-truth" the "international word of the year" — is because it points out a fault in our culture. It suggests that in politics, in government, in our national dialogue, the truth is no longer relevant.
These days, the space between truth and half-truths and utter falsehoods is almost unrecognizable. What's most concerning is the way these post-truths have seeped into the back-and-forth that now passes for political discourse. Too many of our politicians and elected officials have taken to saying whatever they want to in order to make their point, and it doesn't seem to matter if what they're saying is even close to true. What matters, apparently, is how such false or misleading statements make American voters feel, and how so-called or would-be leaders can fool us into believing that they themselves stand a little taller than they actually do.
What people believe prevails over the truth.
That's a line from Sophocles, and he was on to something, I guess. In matters of the heart, or faith, or personal relationships, I suppose there's value in this view. We're human beings, after all. We're wired in an emotional way. We tend to respond to certain situations with our guts instead of our heads. I get that. The ancient Greeks, they got that, too. But in a political campaign, I believe we should place the truth above all else. I don't care what party you belong to or what office you're seeking — you owe it to your constituents, to the people you're looking to serve, to get it right. If you say something is so, then it ought to be so.
You know, before I was elected to the Ohio Senate, there was a push to build a bridge in my district. My constituents were all for it, and wanted some assurances from me that this was something I could get done after I was elected. So, I went to then-Governor Jim Rhodes and asked him about it. I said, "Is this something we're going to be able to do for these people?"
He said, "Just tell them you'll get it for them, and we'll see what happens."
That was the way of things in politics, I was learning, and I didn't like it. So, I stood against it. I didn't like it then, and I don't like it now. From the very beginning, when I gave people my word, I meant to keep it.
This disconnect reminds me of the guy in that great Beatles song, "Nowhere Man," who just sees what he wants to see. I guess Lennon and McCartney were on to something as well, recognizing that at times we can all turn a blind eye to what troubles or confuses us. This, too, is our nature. But in a presidential election cycle, I don't think we have that luxury. Wishful thinking doesn't cut it. We can't pick and choose among half-truths and utter falsehoods and grab only at the ones that reinforce our preconceived notions or stoke our shared fears. We can't live in our own reality — not if we hope to come together and attempt to solve the very real problems facing this great country. We owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to understand the world as it appears before us, not as we might remember it or hope it will be again.
There's a disconnect in America now, and it troubles me. Perhaps it troubles you. Maybe that's one of the reasons you picked up this book — because, like me, you've become frustrated at the tone of our national conversation. How did this happen? When did this happen? And what are we going to do about it? We've got to do something, because it's a worrisome and dangerous thing when we allow the post-truths that marked the 2016 presidential campaign to permeate our culture and (mis)inform our shared thinking, when we allow the truth to become beside the point.
The truth shall set you free.
Ah, now that's a line from John 8:32, and I have to think he was on to something most of all, something we would all do well to keep in mind as we move forward. I think most of us can understand the impulse to hide our heads in the sand and look away from looming trouble. But our leaders shouldn't prey on that impulse. In fact, they should help us recognize it, overcome it, and confront our troubles head-on. Because the truth, even a painful truth, is absolute.
There is no path forward without it.
THE SUM OF OUR FEARS
As we wake up to the reality that we live in a polarized nation, with a deeply divided electorate and a new president who seemed at times during the campaign to embrace that polarization — who against all odds and prognostications found a way to cross that deep divide and win the White House, who took the time from his presumably busy schedule to tweak his "enemies" with a "Happy New Year" message on Twitter — we must pause to reflect. It's time to consider how the post-truth environment we live in might have created the extraordinary circumstances that set in motion one of the most extraordinary elections in our history — and to understand what we can do to restore reason and decency and calm to our national conversation.
I've spent a great deal of time thinking about the tears in the fabric of our society, and praying about them, and talking them through with some of the best political minds in the country, and what I've come to realize is that there are no easy ways to explain the uneasiness of the American people. However, there are signposts we might have seen leading up to and running all the way through the last election, if we were paying good and close attention. The most telling of these signs — glaring, obvious signs — is that people are hurting. There's a sense out there in America's heartland, and all over the world, that we are no longer in control of our own lives. Whether it's job insecurity, or rising student debt, or endless worries over how to pay for health care and prescription drugs, people have good reason to feel at a loss. And in some cases, this sense that our lives are out of our control can lead to hopelessness, especially when we look up to find that our troubles don't seem to trouble a very select few. For the folks who live at the upper reaches of society, the so-called elites and 1 percenters, these worries are simply not relevant — truths to be bent into post-truths, or spun into alternative facts, or even set aside. Everything appears to be going great for the folks at the very top, and those who are struggling can only look on and become angry at the disparity.
And you don't have to dig too, too deep beneath that anger to find an underlying fear, and when politicians set out to stoke that fear, to build on it — well, that's when you find yourself living in the kind of uncertain landscape we saw during the 2016 campaign. That's when people start to feel alone, as if their lives are happening to them instead of them directing their lives. Granted, they might start to feel that way on their own, as the circumstances of their lives conspire against them, but when they're made to feel that way by someone or a group of someones out to exploit those feelings of anger and fear, that's when they begin to think that there's no one looking out for them, that they're being left behind.
Nowadays, when someone extends a kindness, it's almost not to be believed. The way we pay such kindnesses forward can really brighten our days — like the time just after the election when I went to my local Verizon store to see about a problem with my cell phone. The problem, regrettably, was that I'd just taken up swimming, and I'd dropped my phone in the pool. It was totally my fault, and I told the store manager what had happened. I was in the store a good long while, until they finally got it all sorted out and set me up with a new phone.
I said, "What do I owe you?"
The store manager smiled and said, "There's no charge. We made you wait so long, so there's no charge."
Of course, I'd fully expected to have to pay for my boneheaded move at the pool, so this kindness took me completely by surprise.
I said, "That's so nice of you, but it's really not necessary. It was my fault."
And the store manager said, "Oh, that's nothing," and then proceeded to tell me the story of another customer who'd just been in the store who'd had a problem with her phone, and who'd burst into tears when she was told there'd be no charge. Through her tears, the customer said, "Nobody treats people like this anymore."
No, they don't. We don't. Not as much as we should, at least. Not as much as we used to. We've simply fallen out of the habit of caring for one another, most especially in our cities and suburbs. The days of neighbor helping neighbor seem to be gone. Most of us go about our lives with our heads down, eyes to the ground and focused on the road ahead, instead of with our heads held high, eyes up and open to the world around us. There are way too many of us moving about in our own little bubbles, doing what we need to do to get by, and this, too, contributes to that sense of anger, and to the fear at its core. And you can just imagine what happens to all these emotions when politicians start telling you that someone else is the cause of your worries. When they start pointing fingers and encouraging you to blame our leaders and our institutions and perhaps even other groups of people for the difficulties you're facing. You're likely to become even angrier, even more afraid, and to start looking for ways to express that anger and fear.
There's no denying that a great many Americans have missed out on the economic recovery of the past decade — if, indeed, that's what it was. The stock market might be up, and the dollar might be strong, but more and more people are being left behind. More and more people are seeing their jobs downsized, or moved overseas. They're unable to trade the skill set they've developed and honed their entire adult lives for another set that might open up a new career opportunity. They're stuck, and as the pace of our lives gets crazier and faster, as we become more and more connected to one another through social media, with instant access to every conceivable bit and byte of information, some folks are undoubtedly finding themselves feeling more disconnected than ever before. Time-worn anchors such as family and community are no longer in place to keep us grounded — here again, especially in our cities and suburbs — leading many good, hardworking people to feel that they've got no support system to help them through whatever crisis they might be facing.
That said, there are a great many of our rural communities where the church remains an anchor, a beacon; where the union hall offers a sense of stability and certainty; where people come together to support one another in times of trial. We find ways to keep connected, no matter where we live, but my point here is that such connections don't run as deep as they do in our memories. They don't find us as often as they should.
Think back to the Great Depression, when our families and communities were stronger than they seem to be today. People were hurting, then as now, and many were afraid, then as now. But in all the histories I've read of that period, all the documentaries I've seen, I can find no traces of the anger that bubbled forth from the electorate during the last presidential campaign. Back during the Depression, people worked together to get through the hard times. That's an oversimplification of events, I realize, but there's a point to be made in general terms. Today, it feels to a lot of folks that they're going it alone, that they've got no place to turn. Again, I'm generalizing, but I hope you take my point: When you're feeling desperate and isolated, it becomes easy to start throwing around blame; and when you start throwing around blame, it's inevitable that we start to turn on one another.
Yes, we're struck by the random-acts-of-kindness stories that still seem to find us — only, now they're an anomaly instead of the order of the day. I'm thinking of stories like that of Linda Wilson-Allen, the San Francisco bus driver who treats her job like a calling, and considers her bus route her ministry. Her story was featured on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle during the last weeks of the 2016 campaign, and as I read it I wondered just how this had become front-page news. Don't misunderstand me, it was a good and blessed thing, the way this woman approached her work each morning with a song in her heart. She learned the names of her regular commuters, was known to keep the bus waiting if one of them was running late, and would even step down from the driver's seat to help a passenger struggling with grocery bags. In the article, it said that this woman was such a joyful presence in the lives of her passengers that some of them would let a bus go by if the doors opened up and they saw that Linda Wilson-Allen wasn't behind the wheel. But as I read the article, which was pointed out to me by my friend Tom Barrett, I started to wonder when it happened that a simple kindness, even a sustained kindness shared over time, had become so newsworthy.
As a side note, another friend, John Ortberg, reached out to tell me he'd invited Linda Wilson-Allen to speak at the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in California, where he is the pastor, and that at the end of her talk, members of his congregation lined up to shake her hand. What's remarkable about this is that a lot of the folks lining up to celebrate this woman were high-powered Silicon Valley CEOs, so her example is a great reminder that you don't have to do something big to change the world. Sometimes it's the small, daily acts of human kindness that matter most of all — even to the movers and shakers and Silicon Valley CEOs among us.
I'm thinking, too, of a Boston cab driver who picked up another friend of mine when he was vacationing with his family during the summer of 2016. The cabbie heard the family talking about a famous local bakery in the North End that was known for a particular pastry. My friend and his family wanted to try it, they all said, but they were put off by the long lines, stretching around the block. Without a word, the cabbie turned down a side street, switched off the meter, and announced to my friend that he would like to present the family with a gift, as a kind of welcome to his city. Then he raced into the back door of the famous bakery and came out with four of the aforementioned pastries, one for each member the family. When my friend tried to pay the cabbie for his kindness in the form of a generous tip, the cabbie refused — another good and blessed thing, and I share this story here for the way it stands as the exception instead of the rule.
Every time my friend shares that story, he says, people can't get over it, and what they're responding to, I think, is the way it reminds them of the decency and generosity of spirit we used to take for granted. I don't mean to suggest that these aspects of the human character have left us entirely. Not at all. We're all on the receiving end of such kindnesses from time to time — like when we drop our phones in the swimming pool and step sheepishly into our local Verizon store — and many of us find ways to give as good as we get. Lately, though, we tend to see this type of behavior when there's a tragedy, such as a death or an illness. We see it in times of celebration, too — at a wedding or the birth of a child. Mercifully, blessedly, we still find ways to come together when we live at the extremes, in joy and sorrow. We lift each other up. We hold each other close. We're in it together.
But what about those business-as-usual moments, when we're all just getting by? I'm thinking here of that great line often attributed to C. S. Lewis: "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching." What about all those times when no one is watching? Then, it can feel like we're off on our own, which I guess is why it's so remarkable when we step onto a city bus driven by someone like Linda Wilson-Allen, or get into a taxi driven by someone like my friend's cabbie.
It was in this context, I believe, that the anger of the 2016 presidential campaign was allowed take hold, that our post-truth environment was allowed to take shape. And when we added feelings of being disconnected and afraid for our futures to this troubling trend of politicians telling us whatever they thought we wanted to hear, whether or not it was the truth, there was no telling how the American people would respond.
Excerpted from Two Paths by John Kasich. Copyright © 2017 John Kasich. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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September 18, 2015: Mackinac Island, Michigan 1
1 "What Moose, Daddy?" 9
2 Where I Come From 36
3 Running in Place 75
4 Finding My Way 93
5 Faith Above All 108
6 A Crisis of Leadership 129
7 A Crisis of Followship 164
8 On the Trail 181
9 Two Paths 225
10 Keeping the Message 243
11 Let Us Be Clear 273
Postscript: A Letter to My Daughters 285