The name Winsome took me back quite a few decades to those magic moments when my wife, Marty, was pregnant. Driving trips in particular were absorbed in discussions about naming. And this was a time, before ultrasounds, when the sex had not been revealed. This made for a more expansive exploration.
Vaguely, but somewhat vividly, I recall those conversations. We would talk about family names. We would talk about who would be thrilled and who would be deflated. We would sound out names looking for harmony, rhythm and maybe a bit of melody.
William Shakespeare in a telling exchange revealed the naming dilemma. Spoken by Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet was defiant. She was not allowed to fall in love with Romeo because he is a Montague.
What’s in a name? Nothing and everything. The newly elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia is named Winsome Sears. And she, to the cast of Virginia Senators in their ornately appointed chamber, will be called Madame President. Not bad for a woman, a Jamaican-American who grew up in the projects.
And her election has consequences. One of the most important is to introduce Virginians and beyond to the word “winsome”. I am sure I was well into my third decade before becoming familiar with its meaning: “attractive or appealing in appearance or character.” Better that we learn its meaning earlier and most importantly its import.
Georgetown professor Michael Dyson in the aftermath of her election said of her: “There is a black mouth moving but a white idea running on the runway of the tongue of a figure who justifies and legitimizes the white supremacist practices.” He apparently hadn’t read she is also a Marine.
I would ask Professor Dyson: when does polarization become a winning strategy? Never is the answer. Polarization is an element that in its interplay with other elements virtually always finishes out of the money. Polarizing as a tactic can win short-term victories but in the long-term, in a democracy, action turns on some level of unification. Dyson, of course, is not running for anything; Sears did and was elected in a State not especially welcoming to Republicans in recent years.
The hardened polarizers on the Left demean the Lieutenant-Governor-Elect while on the Right those Republican in the Congress who came to an acceptable understanding on a compromise bill funding infrastructure investments are said to be turncoats. Unity as treason?
Most people do not like polarization—the “us against them” of the human condition. When people are intensely inflexible in their point of view they want to let you know and before long you don’t want to hear more.
Former President Trump was, in my lifetime, the most polarizing figure in politics. He is the most polarizing not because he is wrong but because he insists that everybody who doesn’t share his view is wrong. And he often does so by insulting them. His loss resulted from transgressive behavior; the behavior and numbers do not lie.
There is also a false narrative that I have certainly heard more than once. When I am with somebody who supported Trump and often still does it will be said that I helped to elect Biden. Recently I responded to this by saying “I did not vote for either”. I was then told that there are only two choices and you must choose between the offerings of the dominant Parties. One of the prevailing principles in a democracy is you get to choose, I did.
I have no idea why Winsome’s parents choose her name. But my own experience tells me it was a considered decision. Maybe it was because they understood that winsome approaches to life’s many challenges are more likely to succeed. They couldn’t have known that their daughter would one day campaign for the second highest office in Virginia, but as immigrants, they did know that their lives and America’s promise, “out of many one” would be better served by harmony not division. All Americans should take note.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.