Former U.S. Senator Jeff Flake Addresses Lawrentians

Retired U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) spoke at Lawrenceville on Monday evening, quoting Lincoln’s first inaugural address as he encouraged students to “search ‘for the better angels of our nature” during this time of political diverseness. “Lincoln came to power when our nation was at war with itself and at no time since then has our nation seemed so divided,” Flake said. “I hope and believe that we will return to ourselves and concentrate more on shared facts, shared values, and shared faith.”
Flake, who also served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, said that it is “hard not to be alarmed by the levels of vitriol and cruelty” that he feels have become part of everyday political conversations. “I hope that we are still alarmed [by those levels] and haven’t accepted it [as the norm],” he said. “[American politics] have become so very polarized that if there’s a fight, the inclination is to pile on, not to break it up. . . . The level of hate and vitriol is unhealthy not only for those who harbor those feelings, but also for the country as a whole.”
Referring to the current political climate as a “toxic stew,” Flake said there was “very little reward for reaching across the aisle” to the other side in search of compromise. “You end up in opposition ads,” he said. It’s difficult for politicians not to run for safety at the extremes or to “indicate for a second that you’d be open to persuasion.”
He recalled running from gunfire during a practice session for the 2017 annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in Alexandria, Va., saying that his enduring memory (as he sprinted to safety in the dugout) was, “Why? Why us? Why would anyone see a bunch of middle aged men playing baseball as the enemy?”
He encouraged Lawrentians to “get out of [their] own bubbles and reach out to those who hold opposing views. Take positions, but do it in ways that are uplifting. It’s difficult, but it can be done. And understand that you might change your mind later and that is fine.”
America is, Flake stated, “a nation of compromise. When we want legislation that will endure, we must work with the other side and be willing to compromise. . . . We can get back to the people we know we should be.”
He asked students put into practice a message his mother (and now he and all of his siblings) kept on the family refrigerator, “Assume the best. Look for the good.”
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