Niki Kelly: Eclipse gave us unifying moment, something that is missing in politics


I was told I might cry when seeing the total solar eclipse in person. While no tears fell, I felt the moment in a much deeper way than anticipated.

And as I spent a few days trying to understand why, I realized it’s because the eclipse was a unifying moment — one that I crave as politics continues to divide us.

Right now, the country is polarized in so many ways. Liberal and conservative, white and black, male and female, young and old. And it’s not just differences of opinions. Those are fine. But now people spew hatred at anyone who doesn’t feel the same way they do; there is no listening to each other or learning about issues and topics. There is certainly no empathy.

But on Monday, underneath an impossibly perfect April sky, I was reminded that society can come together. And we need to find more of these moments.

For more than an hour, a group of about 20 of us watched the moon slide slowly over the sun. We compared the shape to a croissant, then a banana and then nothing at all. We googled when the next eclipse would be, wondered why the bugs were suddenly everywhere, and estimated how many degrees the temperature dropped.

This group of us, a mix of family and friends, cheered together when darkness hit and stood with our faces to the sky, taking pictures and laughing.

I was most amazed at how science ruled the day. We knew when totality would begin down to the minute. I was in awe of how the alignment is known decades out, making it clear there is order in what sometimes seems a chaotic world.

Then as everyone grabbed their chairs and filtered back to reality, I opened my phone to enjoy the collective social media frenzy. But the first thing I saw was Attorney General Todd Rokita posting a Trump-shaped eclipse picture complete with hair and nose in silhouette.

And it was from his official government account — not his campaign one. Within a few minutes I had 10 direct messages, texts or emails about it, questioning the use of state resources for political purposes.

And I sighed. Rokita had taken this amazing national phenomenon and made it political and partisan. He couldn’t let a day go by — or even a minute — without diverting focus back to his exalted leader.

I reached out to Rokita’s office, who declined to comment. To be clear, Indiana law says a state employee can’t engage in political activity when acting in an official capacity. It’s hard to see posting a reference to Donald Trump not being political. But the impact was minimal and there won’t be any consequences.

I put my phone back down and prepared for another unifying moment — rooting on the Purdue Boilermakers in the national championship game. They came up short. Heck, I did too (falling asleep in the second half because the game started too darn late).

But it was another example of a bonded experience bringing people together.

It’s too bad an election can’t have the same impact. We all want the same thing — for Indiana to be a good place to live, work and play. For our families to be safe, for our loved ones to be healthy, for our community to prosper. We need to focus more on the things that make us similar and not what drives us apart.

We need to stop reverting to our like-minded corners. I learn something every time I talk to a Republican or a Democrat or a Libertarian. There are more grays in life than black and white. Let’s find common ground there — just like the common ground the eclipse gave us.

Niki Kelly is editor-in-chief of, where this commentary first appeared. She has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 for publications including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Send comments to [email protected].

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