I am writing this column before election day and most people will read this after the results are known. The pundits are predicting that Trump will carry South Carolina by a large margin and Clinton will win nationally by a narrow margin. For me as a Democrat in South Carolina, this is the definition of mixed emotions.
But as an American, I’m mostly just glad that the whole disgusting spectacle is over – finally.
Analysts will no doubt fill many books with detailed dissections of this election but suffice to say it has been the meanest, lowest, nastiest, divisive, disgusting, foul mouthed, petty, scandalous, xenophobic, cringe worthy, negative, racist, stupid campaign since perhaps 1860.
And for us in South Carolina, that election in 1860 set off a chain of events that we (and arguably the whole country) are still suffering from today…but that’s a different story.
To me, this election was like a combination of a cheap carnival freak show and a train wreck – it was perversely ghoulish and I knew it was going to all end in a crashing disaster, but I just couldn’t turn away or divert my eyes.
And many other Americans felt the same way. By huge numbers, the television ratings for political shows were way up over this time last year: Fox 43%, CNN 98% and MSNBC 127%.
In one sense, we in South Carolina were lucky. Because we were not a closely contested battle ground state like North Carolina or Florida, we were spared the multi-million dollar non-stop political avalanche on our phones, door steps and in our mail boxes that buried these states in mean, low, nasty, etc. – see above.
But what now? Regardless of who wins, we as a county will be left seriously divided.
Two social psychologists, Jonathan Haidt and Ravi Iyer, recently wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal entitled, A Truce for Our Tribal Politics; they provided a succinct analysis of our challenge and they offered two good suggestions for us to productively move forward.
“In short, the day after this election is likely to be darker and more foreboding than the day after just about any U.S. election since 1860. Is it possible for Americans to forgive, accept and carry on working and living together?
We think it is. After all, civility doesn’t require consensus or the suspension of criticism. It is simply the ability to disagree productively with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. That can be hard to do when emotions run so high.”
One small personal example: my father now lives in Decatur, Georgia and they are having a first ever community wide ecumenical service the night of the election to pray for unity and an end to our division.
But absent divine intervention, regardless of who wins they will face the daunting task of trying to lead our country with half of the people believing them unfit for the position they hold.
So, what can we do?
In their column, Haidt and Iyer offer two suggestions and I would humbly like to offer a third.
#1 – “Separate your feelings about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton from your feelings about their supporters.” This is essentially the Biblical admonition to separate the sin from the sinner – it’s hard to do but important that we succeed. We as people and as a country cannot afford to be as divided for the next four years as we are now.
Another small personal example: a friend of mine works at the corner grocery store that I visit several times a week. But, for more than a year now I have generally avoided stopping in when I know he’s on the cash register so as to avoid an increasingly difficult conversation. I have many good friends who are Trump supporters and I miss not being able to freely talk with them. Multiply my story by 100 million and you see why we are so divided as a country.
# 2 – “Step back and take a breath and decide whether in the long run, would you rather change people or hate them.” Change, especially changing minds, is usually a slow and deliberate process. It requires dialogue, patience, good will and an open mind – on all sides. Apply this to grid lock in Congress or in conversations with my friend at the corner store and – well you get the picture.
# 3 – A 100 Day Pledge. I would humbly propose that we all individually pledge to ourselves and the country that we will refrain from talking trash about our new president – either Trump or Clinton – for the first 100 days they are in office. Between now and Thanksgiving dinner, we can still rant about things and tell Uncle Fred that he is a brain dead moron because of who he voted for.
But, once we get past Thanksgiving and into the holiday season, let’s let the spirit of ‘peace on earth and good will toward men’ take hold. And, once the new president is sworn in on Jan. 20th, let’s give them a chance. We can disagree with their ideas and policies, but let’s all agree to take the pledge and not revert to the senseless rhetoric and divisive harsh language that has caused us all the angst and pain that we have today.
If we can all agree to do these three things, then maybe – just maybe – we can get through all of this. And, we will all be a lot happier about ourselves, our neighbors, our state and our country.
Phil Noble has a technology firm in Charleston and writes a weekly column for the SC Press Association. www.PhilNoble.com firstname.lastname@example.org