Our Nation Is Off Course Because We’re Looking at the Wrong Heroes

Our Nation Is Off Course Because We’re Looking at the Wrong Heroes


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Janet Ybarra
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press

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Mister Rogers and Big Bird, admittedly, are unusual subjects for a political column. However, the recent premiere of the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and the announcement of the death of Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who for decades gave life to the beloved giant avian Big Bird on the long-running children’s program Sesame Street, makes there no more appropriate time.

For those like me, Mister Rogers and Sesame Street–especially lovable characters like Big Bird–remain indelible touchstones of our childhoods.

They came into our homes and, on a day-by-day basis, used fun, imagination and the stuff of personal connection to try to help us become better people while making sense of the world.

So when when we are reminded of them, and their gentle positive influence, with something like the sweet little gem of a movie like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, we realize at once in Fred Rogers’ genuinely boundless kindness that we could all be capable of the same, if only we pointed ourselves in that direction.

(And, just a side note: Tom Hanks is masterful in this picture. He disappears into Fred Rogers and you forget that you are watching Tom Hanks; you truly think that you are watching Mister Rogers. Hanks is an artistic treasure.)

But the mistake is ours. Mister Rogers, Big Bird, and all of Big Bird’s friends pointed us toward compassion. We are the ones who chose to turn away to a path of cruelty and divisiveness instead, as embodied by Donald Trump.

I’m not at all talking on a Democrat vs. Republican policy level. I’m not talking about differences on tax policy, abortion, what-have-you.

We can hash out those differences.

What I’m talking about is the needless cruelty of “p*ssy grabbing,” throwing racist taunts at your opponents and just, overall, embracing vulgarity in public life.

President George W Bush was as conservative as they come. He and I probably wouldn’t agree on much. But he was always a gentleman.

And our elected leaders of both parties at one time were somehow able to come together to solve the nation’s problems that today they seemingly cannot.

It’s time that whatever policy we may embrace, we turn back to the role models who we embraced as children.

Wouldn’t that make Big Bird and Mister Rogers proud?

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