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Opinion

November 6, 2008

WEB ONLY: Beyond the election: E Pluribus Unum

Welcome to the new America.

I’m not talking about a blue America or a red America. I’m talking about a 21st century America – a nation of many colors, cultures and faiths.

Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American president symbolizes what we have known for some time, but often fail to acknowledge: The United States has become one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse societies on Earth.

Today, for example, only half of the American people identify themselves as Protestant – a stunning shift in this historically Protestant nation. There are now more Muslim Americans than Episcopalians, the church of many of our Founders.

By mid-century, the Census Bureau tells us that we will be a “minority majority” nation in every sense of the term – a demographic milestone with far-reaching social and political implications.

That’s why a high priority for President-elect Obama isn’t only the economy or the two wars, but also the urgent need to unify Americans and develop a common vision of the common good across our differences.

That will not be easy. In the wake of the longest presidential race in history – an often bitter campaign that exposed our ideological and religious divisions – Americans are angry, partisan, and emotionally spent.

Nevertheless, at this difficult moment in our history, we have no choice but to come together. Those obligatory post-election calls by both candidates for “national unity” need to be translated into actions that transcend our racial, religious and ideological divisions.

The new president must persuade fellow Democrats to resist the winner-take-all mentality, just as John McCain must encourage Republicans to eschew guerrilla warfare. Our current challenges are too big, the stakes too high for politics as usual.

Of course, extreme voices from the left and right – especially the Internet flame-throwers – will continue to debase the debate. Incendiary rhetoric, name-calling and similar tactics will still pollute the public square, undermining efforts to find common ground.

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