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Regardless of where you reside on the political spectrum, most Americans can agree that what they see from Washington leaves much to be desired. Many of our national leaders and media voices no longer seem to be conversing. This has led to political stalemate. The only time it seems that something gets done is when one side muscles something over the objections of the other side. 

Given the progress Michigan and Detroit have made in recent years — and how much remains to be accomplished — we cannot afford to follow the example of incivility that grips much of our national dialogue. The continuation and acceleration of Michigan’s progress is dependent upon all of us working together, finding common ground and handling our inevitable disagreements with humility and grace.

We are a nation of 325 million and a state of 10 million people. Each of us has a perspective and opinion on matters great and small. Our Founding Fathers knew this and built a system based on representation, balance of power and compromise. Our system of governance is specifically designed to drive compromise.

In Michigan, we are fortunate that civility is still visible. Our former governor made a point to never criticize political opponents, even when he was criticized by them. Our new governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is following a similar ethos and is actively working to build bridges with the Republican leaders of the legislature, who are responding in kind. 

Being civil toward each other does not mean suppressing ideas or agreeing just to agree. There is an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable. If we begin our conversations with the knowledge that others have the right to believe in what they believe, and their life experiences may be very different than ours, we can view these interactions as an opportunity to learn a different point of view, not necessarily change our own. 

Furthermore, while we often disagree about how to accomplish something (e.g. access to health care, providing more job opportunities) our end goal is often the same.

As a “Reagan-Bush era” Republican, I readily acknowledge that our society is stronger thanks to the leadership and contribution of those more politically conservative or liberal than me.

The opportunities and challenges Michigan faces are too great to be bogged down by the incivility driven by hyperpartisanship. Our state is poised to be the global leader in the transformation of how society moves. Positive economic outcomes for more citizens continue to build. Our global reputation remains on the ascent.

But despite the good news, there are warning signs we must recognize. The Detroit Regional Chamber’s State of Region report shows that our growth is lagging our peer regions across the nation. Business Leaders for Michigan data reports similar findings comparing Michigan with other states. 

As Michiganians we can’t allow our leaders and citizens to follow Washington’s lead.  We have too much at stake. 

Sandy K. Baruah is CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for President Bush.

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