southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

A Search for Light: Reflections on the Election of 2016

There is always light to be found in the darkness – a nugget of opportunity, a sliver of hope to be clutched and pursued in an otherwise bleak reality. I held fast to this eternal maxim as I watched the election slip hopelessly through the fingers of Hillary Clinton and into the waiting hands of Donald Trump on Tuesday night.

While the pundits and strategists perform the quadrennial political autopsy in a search for answers, I begin a search of my own. I am looking for that light – the proverbial silver lining in the foreboding clouds overhead.  Admittedly, this exercise will not come without its challenges.  I supported Hillary Clinton for president with every fiber of my being and every ounce of my soul.  I believed, and continue to believe, that Secretary Clinton was better qualified, better prepared, more experienced, more nuanced, more decent and more stable to step into the role of president as compared to her opponent.  To my mind, the distance between them on all of these counts was cavernous; it was not even remotely close.

I was hopeful that Hillary would score a resounding victory at the ballot box – a complete and utter repudiation of all that Trump represents, e.g., hatefulness, divisiveness, anger, fear, indecency, inhumanity, vulgarity, lack of humility, machoism, disrespect, ruthlessness, and lack of intellectual curiosity and rigor, to name a few. Instead, these objectionable attributes carried the day.  Still, there must be light hidden in the darkness of these events, I reassure myself, for there always is.  Surprisingly, I have found my answer, and the light, in the painstaking, and often painful, task of exploring the post-mortem polling data.

As I digest the exit polling, and its meaning, I am smacked in the face by something that we all inherently know. Our country is profoundly and deeply divided, along the lines of race, ethnicity, class, gender, geography, religion and education.  We have been living with this stark reality for my entire adult life.  It is nothing new.  But, for some reason, I had not fully processed the depth and severity of our divisions, and the dire consequences should we not seek to heal them.

All Americans should be appalled and saddened that we so often vote in monolithic blocks. White folks vote for one candidate while people of color vote for the other; women largely vote differently from men; there are sharp differences in the voting habits between those with a college degree and those without; city dwellers can be expected to vote contrary to rural voters; Northerners versus Southerners; East and West Coasters compared to the Heartland; and the list goes on.

The politicians for whom we vote tailor their messages to surgically target these disparate groups depending upon the audience. What’s worse, these same politicians pit one group against the other, stoking the anger, hatred and division among them.  Donald Trump performed this task masterfully and mercilessly in this election; and while he did it more brashly than most, almost all our politicians do it, Hillary Clinton included.

It is in this awakening that I have found my light. It took the painful experience of this election, and the light it shed, to drag me, kicking and screaming, to the recognition that it is my duty to do everything in my power to heal and, ultimately, bridge the divide in our country.  A house divided against itself cannot stand.  Abraham Lincoln’s wise words concerning the health our republic over 150 years ago are as relevant today as they were then.

I plan to give President-Elect Trump a chance; he deserves the opportunity to succeed in a way not afforded President Obama by the Republicans. Like Jeckyll and Hyde, I am hopeful that Candidate Trump transforms himself into a President Trump who dignifies the weight of the office.  Donald Trump might be a good president; he might be a bad one.  Either way, if his election shines a light brightly enough on our nation’s divisions that they are fervently and collectively addressed, then the outcome of this election might well have been a blessing in disguise.  To borrow a germane phrase from my girl, Hillary Clinton, we are always stronger together!  We must work hard to make this so.  Otherwise, we will retreat to our respective corners of society, walking through life with only those of like mind, and thereby completely neglecting to engage the wonderful wisdoms, insights and experiences that others have to offer.

To be clear, I am not seeking a world in which we all think and act alike. Our differences are not only healthy, they are beautiful.  The truth is most Americans want the same thing, we just have different views on how to get there.  Divergent opinions argued through robust debate is at the very heart of our democracy.  But, we have to find a way to disagree without being disagreeable.  Otherwise, our divisions are bound to expand, deepen and become more firmly entrenched.  Perhaps, irreversibly so.

Sadly, the debate of ideas (I use that term loosely) surrounding the Election of 2016 was less worthy of a presidential campaign and more closely resembled a playground fight amongst teenagers. In lieu of important policy discussions, Trump’s chief focus was convincing the electorate that Hillary deserves a jail sentence, and Hillary condescendingly referred to a swath of his supporters as “deplorables.”  No segment of American society is deplorable, but the tone of the debate certainly was.  That has to change.

Moreover, I am not in denial that every society from the beginning of time has experienced divisions, often deep fissures. America is no different on this score.  However, we must fight for an America where our divisions are rooted not in hatred and misunderstanding, but instead based on a healthy exchange of ideas.  I do not believe this to be an idealistic dream drowning in naïveté.  To the contrary, I believe it is not only achievable, but quite doable, with hard work – blood, sweat, tears, careful listening, common understanding and a recognition of the other.

So, then, where do we go from here? First, we must demand from our leaders, prospective leaders and each other that there is never another election as, well, deplorable as that of 2016.  Future candidates for office, particularly the presidency, must do far less name calling and do far more in the way of explaining their policy positions.  Referring to your opponent as “crooked” does not add value to the conversation, where expounding on your plans for entitlement reform, immigration reform, tax policy, and so on, certainly would.

I believe that simply improving the tone and tenor through which we debate competing ideas would go a long way in patching the gaping holes of division in our society. It would affirm in the minds of all Americans that, while we may not agree on every (or any) issue, we are all on the same American team.  The good news – the beaming light from this election – is that we do not have to wait for our political leaders to show the way in this regard, lest we might be waiting until the Cubs win another World Series.  Each and every one of us can live this truth in our daily lives.  We can try to be more tolerant of our neighbor’s viewpoint on a particular issue.  We can ask questions to try to better understand their views.  We can make every attempt to put ourselves in their shoes so as to better understand the foundation of their views.  We can listen, and listen hard.  Then, if need be, we can disagree with those same views without being hateful, angry, indignant, reactionary, condescending or divisive.

We can do it, America; we can repair the busted seams of our society. We can stitch the frayed fabric that separates the New York City lawyer from the Upstate farmer; the inner-city Philadelphia school teacher from the coal miner in central Pennsylvania; the biopharmaceutical worker in the Research Triangle Park from the factory worker in western North Carolina; and others who seemingly have few commonalities and shared values.  It is not a lost cause, unless, of course, we want it to be.  Unless we are content to live perpetually in an Election of 2016 world.  I, for one, never want to see the likes of it again.

There is light in this election. It is that we can set aside partisan differences and come together to say never again.  Never again will we be subjected to a thoughtless campaign that tested our patience but never our intellect.  Never again will we accept a campaign based on the lowest common denominator instead of appealing to our highest aspirations and ideals.  Never again will we be divided into disparate groups like political pawns instead of being showered with well-reasoned arguments supported by facts and data in an effort to garner our votes.  Never again will we allow fear and division to be the primary political tool used to win an election at the expense of hope, inspiration and ideas.  Never again will we be made to endure an election so dirty that we feel the need to shower at the top of every hour.  Never again will America’s light be so dimmed by such a vile political campaign.  Never again, America, never again; for we are better than this.

I close with a final word to my fellow Democrats: do not despair or hang your heads for too long. There is light in this election, but it cannot be seen if your eyes are closed.  Do not worry about the next election, whether it be 2018 or 2020.  Rather, let us learn as much as we can about those who did not vote with us.  Let us recognize why we did not appeal to these folks, and understand how we might reach them in the future.  And let us now press forward with the hard work of bridging the deep divisions in our country, so that we are in a position to earn future votes from Americans of all walks of life – every creed, race, religion, gender and socioeconomic status.

If we fight to make this so, America’s light will shine more brightly than ever, and so will our party’s.  Lift up your heads, friends, there is light in the darkness.

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November 12, 2016 Posted by | Democratic Party, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Politics, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment