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The Briefing: Blessed are the merciful, even in politics

WASHINGTON – Seeking safety from unfriendly fire from both sides of the political spectrum, I started reviewing Scripture the other night, but the passage I found in Exodus proved to be less than helpful.

How am I to deal with these people?... Any moment now they will stone me!

So said Moses, and while I can relate, those words didn't quite offer the solace I was seeking. So I turned to another, more familiar passage.

A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another.

Christ's words in the Gospel according to John seem far afield from Washington and from much of America these days. And some would say that is as it should be. After all, the Constitution grants us not only freedom of religion, but also separation of church and state, and those two provisions remain cornerstones of our freedom.

Yet amid this holiest of seasons for both Christians and Jews, perhaps it's worth reflecting on some ancient words to see if they can offer us any guidance at a time when Americans are more riven by politics than they have been in generations.

If you doubt that this is the case, both polling and anecdotes may convince you otherwise.

Some 44 percent of Democrats and those who lean that way now have a very unfavorable view of the Republican Party, while 45 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners have a very unfavorable view of the Democratic Party. A quarter century ago, only about 20 percent of partisans had such strong negative feelings about the other party.

How deep is that divide? Another poll found that 60 percent of Democrats wanted their daughter to marry a Democrat, while 63 percent of Republicans wanted their daughter to marry someone from the GOP. Back in the 1950s, fewer than half that many people even cared.

Of course, there was no social media in the 1950s, and there's no doubt that the social media of today serves as a handy tool to deepen partisanship in ugly ways and on both sides. For example, some conservatives have been sharing a doctored photo that shows Emma Gonzales, one of the leaders among the gun-control advocates from a Parkland, Fla., high school, supposedly ripping up the Constitution. And for nearly three years, liberals have been pushing a meme incorrectly saying that Donald Trump once called Republicans the "stupidest" voters.

All of which brings to mind a line that can be found in various forms in Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious texts.

Do unto all men as you would wish to have done unto you, and reject for others what you would reject for yourselves.

So says an Islamic version of what we've come to know as the Golden Rule. And as ancient as it is, perhaps it offers us a way out of the destructive partisanship that turns friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor.

Think of it this way. Would you want someone doctoring a photo of you to make it show you doing something deeply offensive, and would you want that fake photo ricocheting all over the internet? Or would you want someone making up a meme saying something you didn't say and putting that online for the world to see?

Of course not. Most people would never think to do such a thing, either – but many people do share such online lies without thinking, breaking the Golden Rule in the process.

So one step we can all take toward a better politics is to stop sharing political memes.

But there's more. You don't see much of it on social media, but there is a National Institute for Civil Discourse at the University of Arizona. It offers a variety of ways in which each of us can do a small part to bring America back together again.

There, you can take a "The Revive Civility Pledge," which is all about respecting – and listening to – others' opinions.

You can take a "Seven-Day Civility Challenge" to spread the message that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

And you can set up a talk in your own community to bridge the gap between left and right during a "National Week of Conversation" from April 20 to 28.

Lastly, we can all be honest with ourselves. There have been times when I myself have not hewed closely enough to the Civility Pledge. And as I head off on a weeklong vacation and as the Briefing takes a break until April 10, I have been pondering those moments and trying to make amends.

It is, after all, a season of rebirth, of renewed hope. Which leaves me thinking of one last line of Scripture, from the Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

Happening today

Not much, as it is Good Friday ... President Trump will spend the holiday weekend at his estate in West Palm Beach, Fla. ... Congress is on recess ... Howard University's School of Social Work holds a forum on "Addressing Black Men's Health: The Time is Now.'' ... The Center for Strategic and International Studies holds a discussion on "After Syria: The United States, Russia and the Future of Terrorism.''

Good reads

The Washington Post reports that there is a surprising economic boom in Trump country ... Vox ranks members of President Trump's cabinet based on how likely they are to get fired ... The Atlantic explores the downward spiral in U.S.-Russian relations ... New York Times columnist Kevin Roose asks the question: Can social media be saved? ... And at the National Catholic Reporter, columnist Tony Magliano offers a nice reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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