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As we talk of uniting, divisions multiply

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© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000

Finally, mercifully, miraculously, and unfortunately for Al Gore, we have a new president.

If this were Rome and we were picking a pope, great puffs of white smoke would be rising from the Vatican.

Instead we're about to be enveloped in enormous clouds of overheated air. Homily after homily will float over our heads, calling us to be one great, united nation again.

Jeff Greenfield will lean into the camera and speak of the need for healing in the tones normally used in "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" in Ladies' Home Journal.

George W. Bush will looks straight at the TelePrompTer and utter whatever James Baker tells him to utter.

Unity, my chad!

In a country where parents sue the high school if their daughter doesn't make the cheerleading squad, we're all going to kiss and make up?

Have we forgotten that the impeachment of Clinton was the Republicans' revenge for the impeachment of Nixon, and the Democrats are probably plotting their payback already?

Through it all, I kept looking for a statesman to fix this thing.

Still looking.

Two men who were presumed to be in this class, Warren Christopher and James Baker, revealed themselves to be the baddest of bad sports on the ball field.

They couldn't even get beyond uttering "good morning" when they passed each other in a Tallahassee hotel.

Every time their side lost in court, they got in front of the TV cameras and wailed.

And these guys were diplomats.

Throughout this last miserable month, did you ever once hear those gentle words used to hide the screaming and shouting across the Mideast peace talks table, full and frank exchange? How about that glorious redundancy also used in diplomatic discussions, good progress?

The Congress is split down the middle.

The Legislature is divided.

Even the neighborhoods.

The guy who lives across the street from me had the nerve to keep up a little Bush-Cheney sign in his front yard the entire month, and I had to restrain the impulse to go over there and yank it out.

And I didn't even vote Democratic.

When I told my father I had voted for Nader, he -- who voted for Gore -- threatened to never speak to me again.

The guy across the street isn't a bad guy. He comes home every day at lunch to walk his dog.

And my father taught me everything honorable I know.

How can I be annoyed at these people? Or they at me? If we're annoyed at each other, then how is the road rage crowd coping?

I am no more enlightened now than I was on Nov. 7 when the anchormen couldn't get the Florida vote right.

The last month hasn't instructed us on how to make our country a better place.

But we have learned a lot about pinball, the way it gets played in court.

That little chrome ball that stood for the disputed votes got flipped this way, then that, from court to court, until some judge yelled, "Tilt," and the U.S. Supreme Court finally yelled the loudest.

When was it that name-calling and hollering became the way to conduct the public discourse? During the years of demonstrations for civil rights and against war? When Ronald Reagan made liberal a dirty word? When talk radio, and talk TV that calls itself news, began to fill our heads with a million urgent sounding but conflicting opinions, yet few facts?

We're loud. We're angry. We're divided.

The election was an exercise in democracy in name only. The only lessons we learned were more pointers on how to win at any cost.

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