Credit: George Danby / BDN

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Rachel Nobel is a 1995 graduate of Mattanawcook Academy.

A lot has been said of American greatness in the past five years. In this current election, our collective understanding of what greatness is in Maine, and our country has been put to the test. The heart of our future nation is in our hands today.

When I was 15, I moved to Maine. To me it was an act of the divine. I don’t use that phrase lightly. Moving was my escape from a place where cruel narrow-minded intolerance was common, to a town and state in which I was welcomed and found a home.

What made it a haven was not that I was so alike to all the other kids in my school. It was that, in our town, in those years, there was opportunity for each of us to exist, with our differences intact. We were able to find and create lasting friendships and support. I can see on social media that many of those connections and friendships continue to this day.

In my high school political science class, it was always obvious on which side of a debate I stood. Generally, on the opposite side was one of my closest friends. She frequently espoused a different solution to the economic or political issues we were exploring. Class was filled with vigorous debate in which we honed skills in oration, writing and the critical thinking necessary to understand what we were arguing for and why.

To this day, I am smarter and more understanding of my decision-making processes because I had to answer questions of why I saw the world the way I did, coming from a friend whom I deeply respected, and with whom I disagreed. She is still my friend and is an accomplished lawyer continuing to use her skills to bring positive change in this world. I love and respect her deeply, and often we have stood on opposite sides of a political vote.

This is an example of American greatness. The opportunity to stand for one’s own beliefs, without belittling or harming others. In my high school, students could debate and argue with each other because we shared a common code of ethics and honor that bound us to respect others, different though they may be from us. This idea is codified in America’s founding doctrines, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I know the privilege we experienced in our class has been denied to millions based on color of skin, gender, country of origin or other distinguishing identities. We have a long way to go to achieve nationwide greatness in that regard. Today, even the basic idea that we can and should respect others is under fire.

The current president wastes no opportunity to instill fear and hatred of our countrymen and neighbors if he deems they do not support him or his political party, or thinks they do not belong in our country. He threatens those who dares disagree with him, and encourages others to do the same. This is not greatness; it is hatred. Its continued spread will destroy our nation. In the words of a great Republican, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I have been proud of Maine since the moment I set foot here. Maine is traditionally a place where independent ideas are spoken and valued. We have supported independent politicians and elected officials of both parties willing to collaborate and bring the best proposal forward. In this approach, and strengthened by ranked-choice voting, Maine can be a model for our nation in these dark times.

In this election, I urge everyone to use the privileges granted them by our forefathers and mothers who fought hard for each of us to have the right to vote. Do not vote for those who seek to divide us and sow fear. Do not vote for politicians who support these divisive efforts with their words, voting-records, actions, or complicit silences. Shun those whose motivation is to secure all the power of our nation in one party. That’s no democracy.

Instead, respect the phrase E Pluribus Unum, out of many, one. Vote for candidates who bring the most voices to the table, and who understand the diversity of people and ideas that built our country. Only then will we be “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Only then can we continue in the everlasting pursuit of true American greatness.