Liberals and conservatives alike can agree that President Barack Obama has a lot on his plate. Though his office is the plum of politics, there’s no one alive who envies his workload. An economic crisis, two wars, global warming, vast income inequality, lagging public education, the continued threat of terrorism and countless other concerns. It’s got to make Obama wonder at least once in a while why he schlepped Michelle and the girls to Washington to take this seemingly impossible job.

But while Obama continues to focus on the chasm between Wall Street and Main Street, or between Israelis and Palestinians, I hope he won’t ignore the restless tenor of cultural contention between everyday Americans as well. He should take note of the increasingly bitter divide between his party and the GOP, fueled by even more bitter cable news networks on both sides of the debate. And on another front, I hope Obama recognizes that many Americans don’t seem to differentiate between the words “terrorism” and “Islam.”

Equally important, Obama must address the Tea Party movement, though not necessarily by adopting any tenet of their antithetical, loosely assembled platform. Rather, when the historic health bill neared its passage last month, I hope the president’s ears perked up during meetings with dithering Democrats to hear Tea Partiers hurling epithets at black and gay members of Congress.

Yet more important than just taking note of these cultural realities, I hope he’ll say something in response.

I hope all of the above because I know it’s that famous Obama hope — the one that Americans met during a campaign about bringing people together — that will once again (or perhaps for the first time) unify the country. He conveyed that hope by reaching out and inspiring Americans through his oratory. And that’s exactly what he should do now. He ought to call a press conference, look into the camera and say something like this:

“My fellow Americans, you’ve got to listen up. Because I’ve been listening to you, and I’ve heard a whole lot of crazy talk. And more than crazy talk, I’ve heard a lot of unproductive talk. For starters, let’s get it resolved once and for all that ‘Socialism’ is not the same as ‘Fascism.’ In fact, they’re pretty different from one another. Those who favor universal health care are really not ‘fascists,’ people. And for that matter, if some of you stopped using ‘Socialism’ as a reactionary buzzword, and studied it in a philosophical context, you may realize it raises some pretty good points. Just something to think about.

“And you know, I was thinking about that whole conversation in 2008 about whether or not I was a Muslim, and I’ve been thinking that I took the wrong approach. It’s true that I’m a Christian. Most definitely. But I should’ve asked: what if I were a Muslim? I’ve got to tell you, if it weren’t for American Muslims in our military, particularly those who’ve served as Arabic translators, our efforts in the Middle East wouldn’t be worth anything whatsoever. Countless Muslims now join the ranks of history’s great American patriots.

“Which brings me to another point — not only can non-Christians or non-whites illustrate true ‘patriotism,’ but non-heterosexuals, too, can exhibit the true spirit of America. I’m not saying you guys need to change your religious views, but everyone’s got to accept that gay people are here to stay. Someone is gay like someone is Asian or has green eyes. They can all try to hide it, but they shouldn’t have to in America. It’s time to treat the gay community with as much respect as anyone else.

“That respect is the bottom line, people. It’s what we’re missing across the board. Here in Washington, liberals and conservatives need to respect each other since both, like gay people, are here to stay. As the greatest country in the world, every nation ought to respect us — but we can’t expect them to until we make ourselves respectable. Think about it, people. And God bless America.”

Yeah, in a perfect world, it might go something like that.

It’s appropriate for a president, especially one formerly on the faculty of an esteemed university, to take a moment to teach the country something important.

Presidents, we are taught in grammar school, must wear a number of hats while they’re in office. But they must never forget that the United States is a nation of hard hats in addition to top hats; one of yarmulkes and hijabs and turbans, too. We wear graduation caps and hairnets, sailor caps and sombreros. And as Obama puts on his hat as our head of state, the ceremonial head of one indivisible nation, it’s his duty to remind us that that’s exactly what we are.

Matthew Green can be reached at greenmat@umich.edu

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