Eighty years ago last week, The Hobbit was published. Few of us are unacquainted with J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel, how an unassuming hobbit leaves all things familiar to do what’s right. While like many literary works Tolkien’s fantasy can seem fantastically distant, The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk II explores an aspect of The Hobbit few of us consider. The work praises the “the dignity of humanity, the virtue of generosity, a respect for life, [and] a duty to do good.” When everything else is confusion, right and humanity remain.

This is an uplifting reading of a classic work; but the mere fact that we need reminding of the value of generosity or the duty to do good shows just how deep a bitter partisanship runs in our society. Even before the last elections, congressional deadlock was considered perhaps the foremost obstacle the incumbent President would have to surmount. The casual observer can say that this stagnation has set the zeitgeist for the past nine months; cold facts show an even bleaker picture. Analysis of a recent report from the Pew Research Center shows that since 1994, antipathy has grown along party lines; political differences have spilled over into life choices; the center has atrophied; all while we increasingly operate in the echoes of “ideological silos.”

We are increasingly polarized, ever more deadlocked and often unable to see a way forward. In few issues has this become so drastic as in the “debate” over health care policy. The “debate” is really quite simple: members of Congress are being asked for a “yes” or “no” vote on whether twenty-four million Americans ought to lose their coverage. Some legislators support this measure. These legislators have their reasons: Trump has been in office for nearly a year without a single victory to show for it. These legislators doubtlessly have their reasons: why else would they so disfigure a system to whose mercy they will never appeal?

These legislators must have their reasons for viewing human beings as something other than human beings. This is exactly the problem we face today. We see Blue or Red, not American. We see obstacles to my view, not an opportunity for our vision. Every issue that could be an opportunity for cooperation is reduced to a simple joust of gamesmanship, where the only real losers are the living, breathing human beings with hopes and dreams who happen not to work on Capitol Hill. Democrats work with Democrats, Republicans work with Republicans, and never the twain shall meet. Suffer silently, Main Street; the donkey and the elephant are having a spat.  

This reliance on the unilateral is a problem. The peculiar thing about a problem is that it goes nowhere, until those people interested in fixing it sit down and do so. And someone just did sit down to start fixing it; someone did just stand up for the generosity and duty to do good that Tolkien lauded. That someone is John McCain, who recently issued a statement explaining his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy Act.

His statement should surprise us, if only because it embraces a bipartisanship and a human decency not often seen in politics today. He votes against the bill because of its threat to the lives of Americans, because of its promotion of unilateral action, because of its cheapening of a system that relies on fairness and good faith. He acts in hope of restoring a system that the last two hundred and forty-nine days of Trump have done little to help.

It may be that few of us thought much of John McCain as a politician: hawkish, conservative, often close-ranked with the Republican establishment. But that is exactly Tolkien’s point as Vann argues it: anyone can fight for the good of another, for principles we all hold dear, despite a culture which insists that action is either unilateral or impossible. It may well be that it takes the lone action of a victim of torture, a public servant of thirty-five years’ experience currently fighting brain cancer, to remind us that whatever our party or persuasion, we must never let the good of others fade into the periphery. If someone who has given so much can being this work of reconciliation, how much farther can we just beginning carry it? We need only value people over party, and set principle above political gain. And I am hard-pressed to think why we would want things any other way.

I end with an old proverb, as told to me once by a novice Franciscan. A rabbi asks his students how a person knows that the dawn has arrived. Each answers, but the rabbi tells them that “It is dawn when there is enough light in you to see the light in me.” When every party is exhausted, when more talk seems impossible, that light is all we have. Do not let anyone, do not let anything stop you from seeing that light.  

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity junior. His column, "the academy matters," runs on alternate Thursdays.