Former U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and author Jon Meacham discuss political division in the United States throughout history on Thursday morning.

While some might say the “united” in United States appears to be diminishing, a former senator and award-winning author believe they know a solution to reclaim unity: compromise.

Former Sen. Bill Nelson and author Jon Meacham held a discussion on political division in the Library East Grand Ballroom Thursday morning. The discussion was part of UF’s Nelson Initiative on Ethics and Leadership, which is a series of seminars, classes and a fellowship program. 

The event, which drew about 200 people, was sponsored by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, George A. Smathers Libraries and Levin College of Law. The exchange focused on political division in the United States throughout history and how it can be addressed. 

During the discussion, Meacham, a Pulitzer prize-winning writer, expressed political division is a systemic issue in the United States, and it’s one that isn’t quite new to the current election cycle. 

Meacham said Americans should work to combat that political divisiveness. 

“The story we want told, I would argue, is one where we open our arms and didn’t clench our fists,” he said.

Americans point to the moments of grace and outreach when leaders bring people together, Meacham said. George W. Bush visiting a mosque in Washington after 9/11; Barack Obama singing Amazing Grace in Charleston; and George H.W. Bush resigning from the National Rifle Association after the Oklahoma City bombing were a few examples. 

Nelson, who served as a U.S. Senator between 2001 and 2019, said when he first arrived in Washington he noticed that politicians would disagree with one another but still remain respectful.

Nelson said the environment in Washington is a lot more divisive and hostile.

“The idea of being ladies and gentlemen started to go out the window when politics took front and center to win the next election,” Nelson said.

Katherine McCall, a 20-year-old UF economics junior, said the discussion was a good reminder that now is not the worst point in history the United States has faced. It’s also not too different from other points in history.

“This moment is about us and how we are as a people rather than politicians,” McCall said.

When asked his advice to solve America’s division, Nelson told The Alligator he encourages voters to choose the candidate who they believe can bring the country together. 

“Respect and humility is essential for the art of compromise to make government work,” Nelson said. “Compromise is the oxygen of democracy.”

Contact Grethel Aguila at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @GrethelAguila.