I vividly recall watching on television on the evening of 9/11 as hundreds of members of Congress, from both parties and chambers, stood on the Capitol steps, hours after they had been evacuated from the building, singing “God Bless America.” I wondered (briefly) whether some good might come from such a horrific event that had ended and devastated so many lives.

Maybe the good could have happened. I would like to think it might have happened, that the tone and behavior in Washington could have changed to some degree because of those terrible events. However, the controversy, the heated emotions over whether we should invade Iraq, served to reopen the wounds, tearing Americans, particularly those in Washington and in politics, apart from each other. Soon, relations in D.C. became as bad, and eventually even worse, than before the tragedy. The “God Bless America” moment turned out to be only a brief respite from the bitter partisan warfare that has become the norm in our nation’s capital. The vituperation returned, the national interest relegated to a subordinate role as partisans and ideologues sought every opportunity to score points on the other side, to further drive wedges to divide the country.

It’s my hope, but sadly not my expectation, that while the most committed political combatants won’t likely be deterred for long, some others on both sides of the aisle—the normally reasonable people who have come to serve as enablers for the most bitter partisans—will pause, take a breath, and take stock of our nation’s challenges. There is a terrible cost to be paid for endless bickering that comes from those who see compromise as a four-letter word. We should once again begin to build bridges rather than tear them down. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but every opportunity to attack people on the other side does not create the necessity to do so. It really does not have to be that way.