For the last two months, I’ve been mostly muddling through the days, swimming in a sea of thoughts following our elections. While I’ve completely accepted and absorbed the consequences to these results, I’ve been racing through my mind about the many pathways and outcomes we may soon have to face.
Despite the enormous gulf that exists between us, we must not degenerate into demonizing our fellow citizens. One cannot blame people for voting the way they did. Despite what I might think about their choices, we must respect the will of the people and join together as Americans. For those who refuse to do so, I ask you to remember that no election result is permanent and those who fought you this cycle might as easily become your allies in the next election. Voters can change minds, in other words, so diminishing them for their choice is never a way to go about conducting politics.
Our feelings of frustration are better directed at the Democratic Party, the candidate herself, and the campaign she ultimately ran. While they may never admit it, the date of September 10 will always be seared in my mind as the date the election was sealed. For it was on this date that Mrs. Clinton called “half” of President-elect Trump’s voters “deplorable.” A comment so flippantly made, so carelessly delivered, with the added distinction of being prefaced with the words, “You know, to be grossly generalistic . . .” All above a little podium sign that prominently displayed in purple and white “Stronger Together.”
How could any person expect to lead a country—much less win an election—after saying such remarks as these? Any person thinking forthrightly about the qualities of leadership and governance would do well to remember the lessons of this sad episode. More was expected of the woman candidate running for president, it’s true. And some of that double standard was indeed very unfair and biased, to be sure. But I also must believe that some of those expectations were a result of the competency and experience that were her supposed calling card.
2008 should have been a clear lesson that this also was not a winning strategy with the broad electorate. To be sure, experience in governance is a good thing to have. But experience may also be predicated upon poor judgement and lead to equally bad consequences, making such qualifications as useless as choosing a novice. With anchors such as the Iraq War, the intervention in Libya and the nonintervention in Syria, one could be forgiven if the Democratic nominee had all the foreign policy hallmarks of a Republican over her opponent. Perhaps this heightened the contrasts this election year, though I doubt it.
When answering a question from a young Muslim woman in the second presidential debate about how to combat the rise of Islamophobia in our land, Trump’s response was (paraphrasing), “Radical Islamic terrorism is a problem, and Muslims should report on other Muslims about suspicious behavior, like in San Bernardino, or Orlando, Paris, or 9/11.” The Clinton response was no more comforting, if not downright vague: “Thank you for your question. I’ve heard this question many times before.” After invoking the names of Captain Kahn and Mohammed Ali and then reciting some rhetoric about the American ideal of tolerance and respect, she said, “We need our American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears, on our front lines.” The woman later responded that the answers, other than delivery and tone, were not much different from each other in substance and meaning. Me neither.
How did we get here? That I believe is the most important question we can ask ourselves this day. While the decisions and results of the candidates and their campaigns will vex none but historians and biographers any longer, this should not mean we should easily forget what we all witnessed and endured this year.
We must earnestly look back to see how a nation of laws and norms end up nominating and electing among two of the most unpopular people in the country. Is it any wonder that turnout dropped to the level as that of 2004? Why was the media so derelict in its duty to give fair and equal representations of all candidates? Why were our great journalistic bulwarks so mistrusted on one end and so painfully slow to grasp the realities on the other? Could these not be related in any way? In the coming weeks, I’ll do my level best to review these issues one-by-one and to seek a framework to learn the hard lessons from this campaign. From this, I’ll also try to provide a window into the past to provide not only comfort but also perspective for these times.
We will soon face these challenges together, as a country should. And like it or not, all countries must overcome these great periods of challenge or else silently fall into the dust bin of history. Lately, I have searched our great volumes of history in search of any parallels in our nation for moments of great tragedy and adversity. For those who think this is the greatest test our country has faced, let me remind you of the American Civil War.
Living in the twenty-first century, few scars of that terrible conflict can be seen on the landscape or in the streets. But the frightening figures should be known to us all. Lasting nearly four years, millions of men, women and children were made casualties, orphans, or refugees from the fighting. All done in the name of southern independence, emancipation, or simple conquest, depending on one’s viewpoint. Whole families and communities were torn asunder, heroes and villains were prevalent on both sides, and to this day, evidence of its impact can be seen if one looks carefully. Battlefields are one piece of evidence, but perhaps our latest election results could also be seen as yet another.
In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Cassius at one point says, “How many ages hence, shall this our lofty scene be acted over, in states unborn and accents yet unknown?” So must we too ask this question about our current state of affairs, here and the world over. I look forward to having this conversation with you and finding out from the journey ahead. We might not see the fruits of our labors, but let us begin.