Short-lived Hurricane Barry, already fading from memory, did bring at least one fringe benefit to those of us in its path. For about a week, as Louisianians prepared for the bad weather, almost no one here publicly discussed partisan politics — something that sounds like an almost miraculous luxury in this season of deep national division.
Within Gulf Coast towns and cities facing winds and floods, the national political scene seemed suddenly beside the point. We were too busy worrying about levees, river crests and threats to life and property to pay much attention to the latest intrigues from the White House and Capitol Hill.
In times of real threat, all of the stuff that usually preoccupies social media and cable TV suddenly looks tiny and remote by comparison, as if it’s being glanced through an inverted telescope.
Disasters can also reveal who people really are, challenging familiar assumption about those with whom we often disagree. As Barry stood off the state’s coastline, residents of red state Louisiana worked tirelessly to fill sandbags for the homes of fellow citizens they didn’t, in many cases, even know. Those volunteers, which almost surely included lots of Trump voters, defied the common national stereotype of the president’s supporters as hateful and insular.
To answer Barry’s challenges, legions of public employees, including first responders and social workers, labored long hours for little pay to keep communities safe and care for the displaced – even as authorities were urging everyone else to stay home. Their courage and dedication were a humbling reminder that government, so frequently derided by conservatives for its excesses, can be a noble calling, too.
At Louisiana press briefings about Barry, Republican and Democratic leaders stood shoulder to shoulder with each other, embracing the we’re-all-in-this-together spirit of the moment.
We weren’t naïve enough to think that such a sense of solidarity was going to last. As veterans of Katrina and other hurricanes know, the aftermath of big storms usually brings a quick return to politics as usual.
But seeing so many Louisiana residents working together regardless of party to face a common challenge, we glimpsed the possibility of what we can be.
It shouldn’t take the prospect of a natural disaster, though, to remind us of our common humanity.