Maine’s new government is now positioned to enact comprehensive liberal reforms. However, unless our new leaders can unite us, we will ultimately wash back and forth like the tide, going nowhere.

I hope that Gov.-elect Janet Mills and her team will reflect carefully upon this risk.

Increased polarization, the normalization of hatefulness and the decrease in rational, civil dialogue all suggest that it is insufficient to “make better laws.” We need to make better laws through a process that leaves us with a more constructively engaged and less fractured civil society. I have some suggestions:

• Include the defeated. Offer Republican lawmakers willing to collaborate a seat at the table. Let their fingerprints appear on forthcoming legislation. Honor concerns about fiscal stewardship and local self-determination. Make our legislative process a model for the nation.

• Use the governor’s bully pulpit. High office confers a megaphone. Teddy Roosevelt’s term “bully pulpit” captures this phenomenon, and FDR used it masterfully. Many of us feel that Maine spent the last eight years with a bully in the pulpit. Mills, in contrast, should see her team not only as legislators, but also as educators. Her most important audiences are the young and those skeptical of a liberal agenda.

• Deconstruct false dichotomies. Polarizing voices shout that we face either-or choices. We hear this about attracting business versus caring for our citizens, about protecting businesses versus the environment, about eliminating firearms versus allowing unfettered access to assault weapons.

These dichotomies are built upon flawed assumptions, fed by the shrill assertion that synthetic decision-making processes, which extract the best ideas from multiple perspectives, are impossible.

As our “educator in chief,” Mills has the opportunity to deconstruct and debunk false choices. This will require careful metaphors and eminently accessible language. But it can be done. In fact, it must be done to avoid washing back and forth between one polarized and polarizing position and its antithesis.

In clear and convincing terms, the Democrats need to tell a story that illustrates why careful stewardship of “the commons” is not a partisan matter, but rather a matter of survival. “The commons” refers not just to our environment, but also to our infrastructure, to the fundamental principle of equal justice for all, to a free press and to the rule of law.

• Stand firm. Outreach and inclusion are essential. The same can be said about a fierce determination to embrace, embody and speak for the principles foundational to any effective democracy — principles that have been historically embraced by both parties — while repudiating the language of hatred, scorn and divisiveness. As attorney general, Mills showed plenty of grit. She will need it still.

• Address the concerns of those who feel left behind. Many Mainers feel left behind. Much anti-liberal and anti-immigrant sentiment reflects this sense of disenfranchisement. Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild documents this masterfully in “Strangers in Their Own Land.” Referring with great respect to the people she met in rural America, she explains that they often perceive newcomers to be “cutting in line,” receiving unfair advantages.

We need immigrants for our workforce, and have learned in community after community that diversity brings dynamism. But as we welcome newcomers, we also need to address the concerns of those who feel dispossessed. This cannot become a zero-sum game.

• Campaign across the state for engagement. Before the election, Mills was passionate about her commitment to unify Maine. The vote is over, but the campaign to engage the citizenry of Maine in constructive, thoughtful civic action is only beginning.

At town hall meetings, at civic organizations and public celebrations, in middle schools and high schools, now is the time for Mills and her team to talk frankly about the problems facing us – including ambiguities and uncertainties — in a way that excites participation. Welcome constructive Republican perspectives. Sponsor school debates and essay contests. Raise appreciation of democracy and fact-based argument. Showcase creative problem-solving and synthetic thinking. Lead us, please, in forging a better future — both with and for all of our residents.

Eric D. Lister is a resident of Prospect Harbor.

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