The first episode of The Newsroom gets me every time.
Star anchor Will McAvoy has been stuck in a rut, doing a sentimental, watered down version of the news. He’s been chasing ratings instead of informing the public. He’s been making the easy choice instead of the virtuous one.
But there’s a shakeup brewing. A new Executive Producer has just been brought in against his wishes. Sure enough, drama ensues.
Then, a breaking news alert.
In a flurry of activity, Will and his new staff come together. They put aside their squabbles, their status games, and their pain to report on the story—an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Wait, no. It’s a full-on oil spill.
They report on the coming environmental disaster. They bring on experts, and ask hard hitting questions.
While other outlets gossip about the new iPhone, the ACN team reports on what matters, and hold the powerful to account.
After the show, Charlie Skinner, the network president, brings a bottle of scotch down to Will at the news desk.
"We did the news well tonight," Charlie says. "You know how?”
“We just decided to."
I think about this scene more than I probably should.
After all, it’s just a TV show. And in typical Aaron Sorkin fashion, it oversimplifies and over-sentimentalizes a tough profession.
But there’s something profound and deeply true at the heart of this episode.
When humans decide to do something, there’s little that can stop us.
As I write this, we’re two days out from an election that feels existential.
I have no clue what to expect. At least electorally.
Regardless of who wins, though, I expect division and hurt to sweep across half the nation. Perhaps even violence in the streets.
This is what scares me most.
More than any president or policy, I fear an American populace torn in two.
I fear the deeper this rift becomes, the more we’ll fail to live up to the promise of this country. And it'll be our kids and grandkids who ultimately pay the price.
But how to heal this division? How to stem the bleeding and reverse course?
It’s simple, but not easy. We must decide.
We must decide to be kind, even when our social systems reward cynicism and hatred.
We must decide to forgive, not because we think our political opponents are right, but because if we don’t, our hearts will calcify, and theirs will too.
We must decide that solving problems is more important than winning, and that we're stronger and more capable when we're working together.
We must decide to do hard, uncomfortable things, with no guarantee that they’ll work.
I hope one day to tell my grandkids about this time. About how it all seemed so fraught and fragile. About how we all worried the fabric of this nation could rip apart at moment’s notice.
My grandkids, basking in the fruits of a renewed American pluralism, will ask, “How’d you all bring it back to life?"
We just decided to.