After every election result is announced, there quickly follows the inevitable spiking of the ball from the winning side and the placing of blame by the losing side.
This week’s special election in Alabama led to political trash talking at new heights. Democrats danced in the end zone while Republicans blamed everyone from Mitch McConnell to Steve Bannon to Donald Trump for the loss. Rewind to just over a year ago and the tables were turned as Trump supporters celebrated their win, while Clinton supporters started the finger-pointing almost immediately.
Amid the wreckage of campaign warfare comes the reckoning of governing.
The Alabama special election coverage was full of overly broad generalizations and caricatures about southern voters and black voters. People who don’t know the difference between Roll Tide and War Eagle were making statements about the Alabama electorate.
It also got very personal in the way both sides expressed outrage and weighed in on every aspect of the candidate they opposed. When the race was finally called for Democrat Doug Jones the online taunting began.
But gloating creates smug self-satisfaction that leads to complacency.
Democrats delude themselves into thinking that their issues and ideals were the driving force in this win. Taking nothing away from Doug Jones or his campaign, he won against someone carrying more baggage than maybe any Senate candidate in recent memory.
Campaign speeches given by Roy Moore gave one the feeling that he was pointing his potential Senate career to a step back in time when intolerance reigned. While I reject things he said, there is an understanding that what he says does resonate with a lot of people.
Many of those people feel disenfranchised by the results. Many of them feel that a barrage of #FakeNews attacks against their candidate was both intentional and the reason their side lost. Those feelings don’t go away easily.
But that is the nature of discourse today.
Since winning the presidency, Donald Trump has been in everyone’s face on social media. That doesn’t lend itself to cooperation and good governance. To Democrats gloating over this Senate win, take a moment to realize how you felt last November.
There is a realization that is vital if we are to work together.
We all come to our ideas on issues through a process that is unique to our experience. That experience creates values and a belief system that appears completely legitimate to that person no matter how much they differ from what are seen as mainstream beliefs. Because we tend to be so narrowly focused on our issues it’s easy to forget that others feel the same connection to their issues.
So how do we move past division and work together? Let’s start with what will not work.
Pointing a social media finger in someone’s face is no way to come to agreement or to get your point across. A frontal verbal assault never gets someone to change their mind. It just hardens their position.
The best leaders strive to understand their opponents to gain an understanding into their worldview. They may not always win them over, but in troubled times trust and respect established through fair dealings brings people together.
In his second inaugural address President Lincoln spoke in muted tones about a Civil War that drove division in this country into a protracted war the nearly rent the Union forever. “Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.”
“And the war came.”
That is a pretty clever way to portray the onset of a terrible war in such a passive way. He wanted to leave a door open for reunification.
In facing one of the biggest threats to his presidential campaign, then Senator Barack Obama gave a speech on race in Philadelphia. In that speech he gave voice to both black and white anger and frustrations. That helped save his primary campaign.
In 2017, people across the political spectrum rarely, if ever, respectfully give voice to the views of their opponents. When opposition views are shared they’re often distorted intentionally to be a straw man knocked down with little effort. In today’s political discourse, outright dismissal of the legitimacy of other views is expected. That creates the winner-take-all mentality that separates us into hardened trench warfare.
But make no mistake. When one side wins, victory’s hubris is the fool’s gold that convinces us that our side is always right. So we beat our chest and spike the ball and do our dance. In so doing we eliminate any possibility that we can reach the other side. We also sacrifice our ability to learn something from anyone whose views are unlike our own.
If we wonder why unity eludes us, it is we who are perpetuating the division by turning political wins into taunting unworthy of the worst of sports talk radio. Until we inject humility and the concept of service to all into the political process, we will never get past the lines of distrust across our fault lines.