This has been a hellish election cycle no matter your preference of candidate for the presidency. And it has been that way since the primary season. The rancor and vitriol during this campaign has further entrenched already hard divisions among the American public, and while motivating many, has turned off even more.
Partisanship has become so embedded in every conversation that many folks would rather simply score on talking points rather than engage in substantive debates on how to fix this country. Social media has contributed to this cesspool as users’ posts delve more in rumor or conspiracy than in truth. It’s certainly appropriate to express one’s opinion but today we have feelings that substitute for earnest consideration of points of view that might differ from our own. This environment has degraded civic discourse and threatens to make permanent the fissures we are witnessing today.
Granted, politics is a contact sport. That’s nothing new. And despite all the rhetoric, this is not the first presidential election in which there is a deep divide among Americans nor is it the first when hate has motivated certain factions. It is, however, the first presidential campaign during which digital technology has made it easier for caustic points of view to be heard and for a candidate to seemingly embrace the most extreme and hateful messages of the masses.
None of this serves the country well because we are now backed into our respective corners and no one seems willing to cross the line for fear of being attacked or branded a traitor. And by crossing the line I am not suggesting changing your preference as a voter but simply examining issues without partisan filters. Of course, that is difficult when issues are rarely discussed and debates are simply opportunities for candidates to launch social media attacks. Today, if you win Twitter you consider that a political victory. It has reduced the consideration of leadership to a keystroke battle.
It has bothered me for some time that people sacrifice their principles for the sake of political expediency. It is certainly within your right to support a candidate for whatever reason you deem important in making that choice. However, no candidate is right on all issues and every candidate exhibits character flaws that should not be dismissed simply because we want so badly for a win at the polls. Yes, we find ourselves confronted by serious challenges and the sometime scary possibility of leadership that goes off the rails. This is nothing new. It’s been that way since the nation’s founding. It’s led us into wars, economic depressions and human rights abuses. It is the country we have until we decide to take some very dramatic steps to alter institutions to make them more democratic and responsive to the needs of the wide swath of Americans who feel hopelessly abandoned.
We should be reminded that 1968 was also a volatile presidential election year. A Democrat incumbent, President Lyndon Johnson, bowed out after realizing that he could not seek re-election due to his sinking popularity over the Vietnam War. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fully cognizant of what was at stake in that election with an open presidential race and conservative Republican Richard Nixon and segregationist Democrat George Wallace in the race, held his ground in his opposition to the war and advocating for the nation’s poor. In other words, he did not get lost in the fray because his moral compass was set. King could have easily opted to take a more partisan route. He didn’t. That decision cost him friends and isolated him to a degree the current admiration for his life seems to ignore. Yet, he was right. For King, saving America meant more than just voting out of fear, voting along strictly partisan lines or remaining silent when even those we naturally support err in judgment.
It’s all or nothing now, and our win at all costs attitude robs us of the opportunity to better appreciate and understand how our neighbors who don’t agree with us feel. I’m not suggesting some milquetoast acquiescence to points of view that are patently racist, sexist or biased. They should be called out and confronted with vigor. What I am suggesting is that all opposing points of view do not fall into that category. As well as the fact that sometimes we have to even hold accountable those elected officials and candidate we support when they fall short or when they take positions that are contrary to our best interests. It is what Dr. King understood in 1967 and 1968.
Someone will win the presidency on November 8. When we wake up on November 9, the same America will exist that existed on Election Day. As was the case in 2008 after the historic election of Barack Obama. And that’s the real problem. We now go from election to election in perpetual warfare. The collateral damage is huge and the problems become more entrenched. What’s more, most Americans don’t vote despite all the hype of our campaigns. And most don’t engage at the local and state level where decisions are made in government that have a profound effect on our economic and social wellbeing.
We have heard the chatter of how some are already plotting if their candidate doesn’t win. We should all be outraged by that nonsense. We had enough of that after the 2008 election and how it seemed that Republicans had set up a permanent, but not loyal, opposition to the nation’s first Black President. In the final days leading up to Election Day we need leaders from both parties to jointly announce their intention to work collaboratively for the general welfare of the American people. This doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements, and sometimes pointed debate, but it should mean that partisans won’t be obstructionists and fail to uphold their duty in the executive and legislative branches of our government.
Let’s hope some common sense and maturity will prevail. If not, God help this nation because we tend to be our own worst enemy.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.