When I saw the Press Herald push notification about Sen. Susan Collins’ peak-Susan response to President Trump’s failure to accept reality (“Collins congratulates Biden but also says Trump has process to challenge results,” Nov. 9), I felt something like physical pain. Six more years of this pleases-nobody middle ground? It was too soon after Lisa Savage’s and Sara Gideon’s losses to bear.

But after reading her statement, and thinking about Joe Biden’s conciliatory victory speech, I started to wonder if we might have more to be thankful for in “our” senator than I had thought. There has been much pre- and post-election worry about the polarization that broke our politics and now imperils our society, and the seeming impossibility of long-term reconciliation. Civil war has never felt less remote in living memory. The senator may have a unique opportunity to guide us out of this mess. Maybe her pleases-nobody middle ground is also, crucially, an infuriates-few middle ground. Maybe it’s in Susan Collins’ middle ground that we start to learn to live with each other as a society.

If the senator is as independent from her party’s leadership as her voters think, she should step up and help lead our national conversation. She might consider forming a unity coalition of like-minded legislators from purplish states, perhaps starting with the likes of Amy Klobuchar, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Kelly. This group could first agree to certain shared goals, like economic recovery and fairness, racial equity, universal access to health care and urgent climate action – and shared values, like a commitment to democracy and human rights and belief in a shared reality – before they considered any policy at all.

If a group like this could find and articulate broadly popular common ground on policy issues while still maintaining their electability in their home states, that consensus could show the whole nation a path forward. They could help us discover where Americans today can find the most agreement on the issues while provoking the least resistance. And perhaps even more importantly, they could show us how to talk about that consensus in terms that make the most sense to the most people, giving us back a shared vocabulary for our public discourse and helping to cool the national temperature.

A unity coalition like the one I imagine would be likely to find an ally in the news media, which have struggled to stay universally seen as legitimate, and could use the help navigating these same waters. It would certainly find a friend in our reconciliation-focused president-elect. And I suspect it could find more and more of a role for itself in the halls of power as an antidote to the worst aspects of the two-party system.

I am no centrist. My policy preferences are far to the left of Joe Biden’s, let alone the senator’s. I understand that for many on both sides, any movement toward the center now feels like an unacceptable retreat. I feel those stakes, too. But the closeness of the last two presidential elections should show us all that the other side isn’t going anywhere. We have to learn to live with each other, and if we can find a way back from the extremes without surrendering what we truly believe, that might be the first step on the path to actual, sustainable progress.

We do not seem to be finding our way back from the extremes on our own. We need help from our elected leaders. Few of them are better positioned to give us that help than Susan Collins.

Sen. Collins, you’ve convincingly won another term. Prove to us there’s more to being a moderate than just walking an electoral tightrope. Give us hope that there is more to look forward to in our politics than permanent interparty war. Show us you’re the leader Maine believes you to be.

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