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James Kocot of Belfast is a retired business consultant and writer.

The 18th century poet William Blake wrote: “I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.” It’s the beginning of a poem titled, “A Poison Tree.” Sadly, “poison” characterizes almost every part of our civic discourse now.

This is no doubt attributable to the outsize presence of President Donald Trump, who commands the public stage like no other figure I can remember. To his opponents he is slightly below The Prince of Darkness and to his supporters slightly higher than The Prince of Peace.

We are either “socialists who hate America” or “racists who embrace authoritarianism.” There’s no middle ground in these views.

Any appeal to civility is probably foolhardy in the middle of the political storm around us all today. We can’t even agree on what the facts are, never mind discuss their meaning. The defining passion is rage, not reason. It does not have to be this way.

This storm will pass one day soon or four years from now and it will be up to us to rebuild civil society from the rubble of the political debate that engulfs us. Our way forward depends on it.

It begins by respecting those we disagree with and the humility to accept that none of us knows everything. If someone believes that The Market is the best allocator of resources, that doesn’t make them racists. If someone believes that everyone should have access to the best possible health care, they aren’t freedom hating communists.

The extremes of both the left and the right are points on a single line we all share; and in an atmosphere of respect, together we can find the best point along that line. And the discussion of where is best to land never ends, nor should it in a country dedicated to forming “a more perfect union.”

I was in college in 1968, a year I thought that time would never be outdone for bitter divides. Protests turned into battles, people died, cities burned. The Vietnam War and civil rights drove wedges down the center of our country. But we found ways to get politics back to issues and stop demonizing each other.

Back then, the great intellectual of the right, William F. Buckley, chose a liberal, Michael Kinsley to frequently moderate his show on PBS. No rage. Only reason.

It seems futile now. Let’s start by avoiding snide remarks about those we disagree with or paint each other with the partisan brushes we get from warring pundits who think their income depends on discord. Throw away talking points. Treat with skepticism things we hear that we already believe and with openness things we disagree with. Then the “marketplace of ideas” becomes enriched and wisdom and consensus become possible.

You can hear better and learn more outside an echo chamber.

Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in 1838, long before he became president and dealt with the worst rift in the tapestry of America. “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth in their military chest; with a [Napoleon] Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. … If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

When he gave that speech, he was not talking about an America as a world power. We weren’t. But we were a unique tapestry expressed by our motto, “out of many, one.” If we “tell our wrath” and get back to that, we will prove Lincoln right.