While many people have fallen into the trap of believing politics has irrevocably divided our country, it’s not true.

There is reason for hope over America’s union despite any catastrophizing around the 2024 elections because of our commitment to pluralism. That’s the social tolerance that allows people of conflicting beliefs and different backgrounds to coexist peacefully.

Pluralism is profoundly important for a democracy of 330 million different people. Keeping America off the path of dissolution — or even civil war — means maintaining its commitment to pluralism. The good news is that most Americans already agree on unifying elements like our nation’s ideals and founding documents.

As we enter this election cycle (and beyond), we must keep it that way as we reconcile differences with shared American identity. “It’s pluralism or war,” New York Times columnist David French warned during the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Forum on Leadership in April.

The George W. Bush Institute’s exploration of pluralism has consistently found that its effects are strongest when different groups are bound by a shared purpose, goal or common obstacle.

Thankfully, most Americans with different ideologies agree on core principles such as the right to vote, equal protection under the law, free speech and assembly, and religious liberty, according to a recent study from the Associated Press and the University of Chicago’s nonpartisan research institution NORC.

This research reminds us that, despite stark differences, Americans have the same foundations for a shared identity — common ideals, founding documents, and a liberal democratic culture that has emerged from both.

Acknowledging this isn’t frivolous optimism. It’s the daily reality of many in this country who live peacefully and freely among neighbors with different politics, religions and ethnicities. Often, we don’t appreciate the extraordinary ordinariness of this experience.

For example, French, the Times columnist, explained the “Miracle of Franklin Road” outside Nashville, where he lives. Recounting his drives down this road, he described “megachurch after megachurch,” sharing the space with mosques and synagogues.

Instead of enmity or violence between faiths, French said, “the main conflict is position in the buffet line after church.” This reality exists because pluralism is working and amplifies the potency of our shared freedoms that allow us to worship or speak as we please.

That doesn’t mean we agree on everything. In fact, democracy and free societies emphasize disagreement.

Nor does it dismiss the serious challenges to social cohesion that the United States faces. Most prominently, Harvard professor Arthur Brooks has described a growing culture of contempt  — the widespread conviction that those with whom we disagree are worthless — eroding our national fabric. We see this reflected in our politics and on college campuses.

The Bush Institute has been focused on reclaiming a sense of optimism for the country and goodwill toward fellow Americans.

Critics on the left and the right may respond to this call by suggesting this moment doesn’t allow for optimism or compassion. They would argue that there’s a binary choice to decide who leads the country. If both options are bad, one is still worse — even threatening our democracy’s existence — they might say.

Therefore, they may decide to lower the moral standards by which they judge candidates or to get into the muck with political opponents to “save the country.”

This mindset causes some to disengage from civic life altogether. It imbues national elections, particularly for the presidency, with apocalyptic significance for others. Neither approach is good for strengthening our commitment to pluralism.

And that’s not to disregard voter concerns over the country’s future. There’s a reason Ronald Reagan’s words resonated when he said, “Freedom is a fragile thing, and it’s never more than one generation away from extinction.”

If Americans on the right and the left were less committed to core values, as the research indicates, Reagan’s charge might carry more urgency today.

Consider, though, that our challenges, while serious, are far from America’s darkest hour — a distinction that indeed lies with our Civil War.

And in the past century alone, prominent leaders have sharply tested our Constitution or commitment to pluralism. Woodrow Wilson encouraged the passage of the Sedition Act of 1918, which disregarded First Amendment rights and jailed government critics. Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the internment of loyal American citizens “deemed a threat to national security” during World War II. Richard Nixon oversaw the Watergate scandal. And most recently, Donald Trump did little to dissuade supporters from storming the Capitol and disrupting the peaceful transfer of power.

Our Republic has endured all this.

Today, the country is much less divided on core American values than many may think. That’s fantastic news for maintaining our pluralistic society. It should inspire confidence that the nation will continue enduring — even when our preferred candidates or parties lose.

More important, it means the country is positioned to choose pluralism over war.