By Thomas H. Little, Ph.D. and SLLF Director of Curriculum Development and Research
November 4, 2020

Esse Quam Videri- Latin for “To Be Rather Than to Seem.” That is the state motto of my native North Carolina. We don’t try to be what we are not. We accept things as they are rather than as we wish they would be. Or at least, that is what I remember from my 4th grade social studies lessons on North Carolina.

As I have followed the shifting election results today (Wednesday, November 4) and listened to the polls and pundits lament what did or did not happen yesterday, that motto kept coming back to me–to be rather than to seem. I think today, most of us wish things were different than they are. We would like for the election results to be clean and clear. We wish the virus would just go away. It would be great if we could go back to a time when politics did not seem so personal and our nation did not seem to be so divided. We long for the days when jobs were plentiful and state coffers were full.

To be rather than to seem means facing the reality rather than wishing for the fantasy. This was a hard election. It was personal. It was the most expensive election on record. It divided us into bitter blue and red teams where the other team was not our opponent, but our enemy whose worldview seems diametrically opposed to ours. It fed us misinformation, distortions and outright lies that appealed not to our better angels, but to our worst instincts. And it took place amidst the worst health crisis, social unrest and economic conditions in generations. 

It would be wonderful if we could ignore all of this and just go about our business like it never happened, but we can’t. To be rather than to seem. We have to face this reality and figure out what to do about it. As you turn the page on this election and look toward the new legislative session, you and your colleagues must begin to address these realities, help to bridge the things that divide us, tackle the issues that confront us and begin to rebuild the economies that have fallen behind.

Bridge the Divides. I know it seems like we disagree on everything, especially in the wake of the campaign. But that is not true. You know that the vast majority of issues that you and your colleagues deal with in the legislature are not controversial. We all want everyone in our state to have access to a quality and affordable education. We want good roads and good jobs. We want our constituents to have the skills to compete in the 21st century job market. As a legislative leader, look for those issues where you can reach across party lines and find common ground. Make the effort to reach across that aisle and you might be able to build bipartisan support for legislation that makes your state better and your people more successful.

Face the Virus Head On. It is quite clear that until there is a widely available vaccine, the Covid-19 virus is going to continue to uproot and upset our lives and economies. Just today, America crossed a terrifying new threshold, recording more than 100,000 daily cases for the first time ever. We cannot wish this virus away. Working closely with your colleagues and the executive, you have to face this head on. Don’t ignore it. Don’t dismiss it. Whether by example or by policy, you and your colleagues have to help us beat this deadly foe.

Tamp, Don’t Feed, The Fires. People are angry. Conservatives are angry because governors are taking away their rights and social media networks are taking away their voice. Liberals are angry because the courts may take away their health care and their choice. Young black males are angry because the criminal justice system all too often takes away their freedom and sometimes their lives. Millennials and Gen Z’ers are angry because recessions have taken away their economic opportunities and saddled them with debt. You can either tamp down these fires of social unrest by acknowledging the grievances and working to address them or throw gasoline on the fires by ignoring or mocking them. As a public official, you are obligated to put on your fire boots and start stomping!

Move, Look Ahead. Before the pandemic broadsided us, America was experiencing the longest sustained period of economic growth in its history, with positive job growth for 128 consecutive months (2009-2020). Unemployment was at all-time lows and state revenues at all-time highs. We can wish for those days, but they are not coming back anytime soon. As a legislative leader, you need to work with your colleagues and your governor to provide support and relief for your state in the short-term and position it for today’s economy in the long-term. Get to work getting your state back to work!

Esse quam videri. To be rather than to seem. We’ve faced harsh realities before. We’ve healed divisions. We’ve won wars. We’ve emerged from recessions stronger. We’ve cured ailments. America, your state and your constituents need you to face these challenges head on and lead us to a brighter tomorrow. We are counting on you!