By: Keel Hunt
If we can manage for a moment to turn our attention from the latest skyscraper news and the coming of the 2019 NFL Draft, we need to talk about something unsettling.
There is an odd feeling about Nashville in this current period of transition – a sense of instability, disconnection, un-rootedness. In the shadows below those gleaming tall buildings, a different kind of building seems needed now.
It’s not just about who should be the new mayor (an important decision, to be sure) nor whether our schools will fare better than a lean “status quo” budget (also a fair question).
What I’m hearing, in dozens of conversations across our changing city, is a gathering notion that basic institutions – government, media, political parties, even clergy – seem to have departed the field, leaving the rest of us stuck in a void of incomplete conversation.
Things are shifting that used to be solid, or at least predictable. Civic institutions that once were reliable as guideposts through occasional turmoil or emergency aren’t so much anymore.
City Hall and the Megan Barry Affair:
The implications of that abrupt change two months ago did not end with Barry’s guilty plea in court. The upheaval abides to this day.
There is never time on the evening news to hear the rest of the fallout story nor does it seem anyone wants to – but ask a Metro Government department head to be candid.
You will hear how the disruption has been deep, how the rippling continues.
Over the years Nashville has had the benefit of recognized voices for calm, courtesy and forbearance. Not so much now. Seems they prefer to stay behind the sofa, heads down, and yield to elected officials, who have enough of their own trouble at the moment.
Among those traditional voices – some of the larger employers, speakers at the service clubs, officers of the Chamber of Commerce – the silence in this time of change is both deafening and regrettable. In this void, with multiple candidates for mayor trying to out-shout each other, voters
are hearing more about what’s wrong with Nashville than what’s right.
In their place have risen some important new voices, including The Tennessean with its spotlight on civility, and from NOAH, the organization of faith congregations.
Speaking of this newspaper, I read the explanation (twice) and am still scratching my head that The Tennessean – so legendary an influencer of local politics over my lifetime – was somehow unable to find one candidate in a gang of 13 to squarely endorse for mayor. I hope there was disagreement inside that editorial board meeting.
Recommending not one but five candidates, and one of them an advocate of intolerance, was a surrender of responsibility.
Both the Democrat and the Republican today are either neutered or lost, and neither is trusted to frame a civic discussion about the future of a city.
So what of the city to come from this? What happens when the way-finders fail us, when the familiar guideposts on the long journey disappear or lose their way, and darkness falls?
I’m an optimist, especially about Nashville. I have lived here all my life, and I have learned to be ever hopeful about the resilience of Nashvillians, the goodness of most folks, our interdependence, and our capacity for discussing and choosing the healthy path forward.
When people live in a city, whether by choice or necessity, we inherit an obligation to each other, a duty to listen and look for ways to get along, not divide and destroy. (The exceptions tend to stand out plainly.)
Let’s take a snapshot of this current moment of drift, so we can know for sure when it has passed.
I think it’s time for Nashvillians to talk together again, not about candidates but ideas for making Nashville the best it can be.
This time the “conversation across the city” should be about schools and housing and transit, yes, but more deeply about saving ourselves – and where lasting peace comes from in a modern city.
The hard work of building consensus will not be for the faint of heart.
Keel Hunt is a Tennessean columnist.
Reach him at Keel@TSGNashville.com
Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto