“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” (James Baldwin)
Soon we’ll be confronting one of the biggest tests our country has ever faced. We must heal from the wounds we have inflicted upon one another over the last many months. I have to believe that we as a nation can meet this challenge with wisdom and grace.
But I worry.
This year’s election has been the most angry and divisive that I can recall. Sure, there have been many rancorous presidential elections—when the Vietnam War was a dividing issue, or when differing views on the economy, civil rights, or the environment separated us. There have been elections whose outcomes I cheered, and some I deeply lamented. To be perfectly honest, we have elected presidents whose words, positions, or behaviors made me cringe, and I know that some of the presidents I liked and respected the most made other good people cringe. Maybe that’s a cynical definition of democracy: we support the will of the majority even if at times it makes us cringe. And we continue to work within the system to advocate for what we believe to be right, to be best for our country, and to be best for the future of our children and for the world.
This year, though, I worry that whatever the outcome, it will be extremely difficult to bring us all together. The wounds inflicted have been deep, and bitter feelings abound. These may not be as easy to sweep away as the remnants of political puffery that have been bombarding our mail boxes. In addition, there appears to be a small faction of people who desire to foment a wider divide and deeper rancor—they will oppose reconciliation efforts, supporting an agenda that proliferates in darkness and discord.
Most of the people I know—including myself—have strong feelings about who they want (and don’t want) to see occupying the White House next January. No matter what the outcome, a lot of people are going to be disappointed on November 9. Will those people be able to accept their candidate’s loss and move on to pursue unity as a nation? Equally important, will those on the prevailing side be able to win with grace? Can they understand the pain of losing, even if they may never have understood support for the losing candidate? Can they resist the impulse to gloat, or to smirk, or even to indulge in a happy dance of relief? Winning graciously will not be easy. There will undoubtedly be people on both sides who have no desire to model civility. But we must remember that our children will be watching and learning from how adults respond—whether to victory or to defeat. That responsibility is one we must take very seriously.
We have to ask ourselves now, before we know the outcome of the election: Do we want a united country? Are we still capable of coming together to productively and positively address the complex issues that have divided us: equality, poverty, violence, the environment, economic and social equity, foreign relations, infrastructure, education, health care, and so much more? Of course, we will not agree on how to address these issues, but can we agree to seek civil solutions and respectful engagement? If we focus on what’s best about our country and the values that have been our foundation for nearly 250 years, perhaps we can overcome the schism of the last 18 months.
On November 9, can we take a day, or maybe two, to mourn our loss or quietly celebrate our victory and then come together humbly, without rancor or righteousness, and pledge to be a people united in our commitment to justice, equality, and opportunity for all?
We are Americans. We can do this.
“Speak only if it improves upon the silence” (Mahatma Gandhi)