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Margaret Van Vliet A new wave of leadership

November 9, 2018 GMT

I was a lifelong Greenwich Republican.

Growing up in Belle Haven, my neighbors were Republicans. My parents were Republicans. My grandfather was a two-term Republican state senator from this District, 36.

But now, I am a new member of the Democrat party, having moved from the Republican side just weeks after the 2016 presidential election and before learning about Alex Bergstein. I know Scott Frantz socially, and have always liked him very much. But after watching the two of them debate on Oct. 10, I knew I had heard the voice that resonated with my deepest sensibilities, and I became a latecomer to volunteer on Alex’s campaign.


We all know these are divisive times in our country and so the time came for me to look inwardly and ask myself “what really were the political and social values that drove my life decisions ... and did I have the courage to live by those values?”

As I attended Alex’s campaign meetings, made phone calls, wrote correspondences, rang doorbells and set up yard signs, I experienced a fear of being caught as a Republican traitor and reported to my lifelong Republican friends, only to have them scorn me.

As I engaged in newspaper interviews and wrote supportive commentaries for Alex, I experienced added anxiety. Being honest about difficult truths in life is not easy. But as it’s said, the truth sets one free, and with each new dimension of self-awareness, I gained courage knowing that I might be able to impact this election, thus giving me a sense of peace and courage. For I knew that this election held much more meaning that even I had imagined. It forced us all to defend and protect our most esteemed, long-held cultural norms while it also revealed the determination of others in our district to defend and protect their equally valuable sets of long held cultural norms.

Alex’s concrete plans on social imperatives such as taxes and pension reform and transportation and education and protection of our rights are all the best for our district. Period. But this election was symbolic of not only those issues but much, much more. It symbolized the transformative institutional changes that are frightening nearly all of us in the country, if not globally. Knowing, accepting and working together to soften these hard truths can set us free from the divisive hatred that we all know is plaguing us.

We are in hugely transformational times and nearly all of our human-made institutions are being questioned, challenged or even discarded. The institution of marriage has been re-defined, gender identities are being re-classified, the climate is changing, the high religious institutions are diminishing in numbers amid increased corruption and challenged ethos, robotic life-sciences are replacing traditional models, traditional war has morphed from the tragic known to the catastrophic unpredictable and unthinkable mass murder in our gathering places is not an uncommon reality anymore. The aggregate flat world has removed the traditional barriers that allowed humanity to exist comfortably in protected silos. In the microcosm of our district 36, the same flat world has melted those barriers and now we’re exposed to our somewhat inconvenient neighbors to whom we showed only patronizing approval in the past.


But that was the past. Today, we all reside within a click on a keyboard. Institutional changes and inter-relational assimilations trickle down to the community level and cause great stress that is tasked not only to each citizen for process, but they are also fed up to our public servants for management and resolve. The only way to manage these stressors is with forward-thinking, detailed, process-orientated, compassionate, courageous and intelligent leadership. Successful leadership in today’s world will exist outside the confines of groupthink and have a solid knowledge of the law, financial markets, world history, sociology, earth science, human strife and grief recovery.

Alex Bergstein holds this collective knowledge base and she will be a most successful leader for our challenges today. She is the one called for this role in this community at this time in our lives. Therefore, I ask the community to accept your own personal truths, acknowledge your silos and support Alex. To paraphrase James Carville this week: we have a choice: “All this instability in the world can take us down the road of political volatility. Instead, we can view this new world as an opportunity for forward thinking.” After all, we like to boast our forward and disruptive thinking in medicine and technology, so why not adopt these higher-level tenets to our individual mindsets?

We are in a unique time in world history. It’s a time of shake up. I liken it to the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance; a time of brilliance and growth ... but a scary time when many of the traditional institutions collapsed. Those who thrived in history were always part of a brave new front of leadership. Alex is a brave new leader. She is our future.

Margaret Van Vliet is a Greenwich resident.