November 11, 2020
We are deeply divided as a nation, which was only confirmed by the presidential election. The losing candidate significantly increased his support, getting 8 million more votes than in 2016. His supporters cling to claims of voter fraud with insufficient evidence to change the outcome. He has not conceded victory to President-Elect Biden, which only deepens the polarization and mistrust.
Given 4 years of the president’s chronic lying, isolationist policies, anti-immigrant and divisive strategies to pit Americans against each other, and his failure to develop a plan to fight the pandemic, Democrats should have handily won the election. A centrist Joe Biden made it even easier for people to switch parties. This largely did not happen. Allegiance to conservative values and policies run deep. Misinformation (false accusations of socialism) also played a role as many voters publicly stated their disdain for Donald Trump and voted for him anyway.
According to a Pew Research poll, trust in government is the lowest it has been since they began polling in 1958. Only 17% of Americans say they can trust government most of the time. The trend, which has been declining overall since the early 2000s, crosses generations, political affiliation, race and ethnicity.
To heal a divided nation, we must first accept the results of the recently held elections that were democratic, free, and fair. Many of the swing state elections were overseen and managed by Republican officials in statewide offices who have the majority in many state legislatures. Just as Democrats conceded the 2016 election despite Clinton’s winning the popular vote, our county and its institutions must uphold the results of this election if we are to ensure the continued and ongoing peaceful transfer of power that has always been central to our democracy. I urge you to join in efforts like Hold the Line to advocate for upholding and protecting our democracy.
Once the election is settled, here are five steps to heal our nation and strengthen democracy.
First, we must acknowledge the loss that Republican voters feel. For them, this was also the most important election of their lifetime, an election to save democracy. Getting over losing will take even longer if it is not acknowledged; Republicans refusal to accept defeat makes the task even more difficult. Nevertheless, we must find a way to create a space for grieving and letting go. Democrats went through this in 2016, so rather than gloating they could offer condolences.
Second, we need to reinstate civic education at every opportunity we can. The last four years have eroded democratic principles and practices in service to individualism and political gain. From town halls to board rooms to state legislatures, these spaces provide a forum for teaching democratic processes, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and the importance of working for the common good of all.
Third, we must confront the biggest threats to our democracy, beginning with gerrymandering, campaign financing and dysfunctional elections. We cannot have another election like this one. We need to restore faith in the process with national standards for elections and actions to guarantee that every person has the right to vote. So fundamental to democracy, the brazen efforts to suppress and deny individuals their vote must be stopped. These efforts need to be in place before another strong man, likely with far fewer deficiencies than Donald Trump, emerges and draws from his playbook.
Fourth, we need to rebuild trust in each other and our ability to govern. While rolling back extreme policies of the Trump administration against immigrants and the environment are needed, there also needs to be a bipartisan effort to work toward shared goals. The long overdue effort to rebuild our infrastructure provides a clear opportunity for forging good will by working across the aisle. State legislatures should also look for ways to come together. Collaborating and working together for tangible outcomes will begin to build trust and reestablish what it means to be the united states.
Fifth, we need to come together, now more than ever, to understand each other. This cannot be directed at minimizing differences and agreeing on an abstract common ground. We are deeply divided because we hold different core values that are used to justify ourselves and judge the other.
One exemplary approach for coming together is portrayed in the video Purple, in which people from a diverse region in the Midwest come together for meaningful dialogue. Convened by Resetting the Table, the power of this dialogue is that people take the time to explore what matters to each person, what each would see as the ideal role of government. What emerges are different core values that are essential to each person. This dialogue moves people toward each other, to mutual respect of different belief systems. Key elements include:
- Inviting people to share personal moments that helped shaped their values and political views.
- Time is slowed down for people to connect, listen, and acknowledge each person. This is not a 2 hour meeting.
- There is not a debate about political candidates or elected leaders. They don’t argue over competing facts.
- Individuals become curious and ask others to share what is behind their positions on issues. This reveals what matters to them, their fears, their hopes.
- Guided facilitators listen and honor differences, actually drawing them out for people to see.
The goal of coming together is to promote what john powell calls belongingness that “entails an unwavering commitment to not simply tolerating and respecting difference but to ensuring that all people are welcome and feel that they belong in the society.”1
I invite us to find ways to bring together rural and urban Ohio in conversations. Given that our political differences are also geographic separations, we will need to be intentional to bring communities together. Not to talk about political parties or candidates but to learn about what the heart of the matter is for each of us.
Seeking mutual understanding is not the end. Our work is not over as racism is rampant, economic disparities continue, immigrants face xenophobia. We need a diverse and multi-generational movement that attracts more people into the fight for justice. By engaging those who have a different world view, the hope is that everyone will go away with a greater commitment to join forces to work toward the greater good.
1The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belonging, by john a. powell and Stephen Menendian. Retrieved at http://www.otheringandbelonging.org/the-problem-of-othering