And now, it is time. This morning, beginning at 6:30 (Eastern), Americans will form lines at their polling places and do their duty. It is a duty as solemn, as exciting, as important as anything a free people can do. The founders formed the early framework, which has stood sturdy for over 200 years now.
But the gravity of the act of voting has never changed. For our next president, be it Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, will be chosen not by the military, not by ascension to a throne, not in a secret conclave, not by political parties.
No, in the United States, when the vote is counted, it will be said as it has been so many times before that “the people have spoken.”
And then, the most important duty will fall to the candidate who is victorious, to sound the first chimes of unity, to say in acceptance words that can bring our tumultuous country together. It will not be done in one speech, or one night, or perhaps even in the matter of weeks that follows election and inauguration.
But after an election in a country fractured by the discontent of a large segment of Americans the new president has to bring the healing quickly.
So, too, will the major political parties need to speak to unity by expanding their foundations:
Democrats have somehow lost a large segment of working Americans, blue collar and white collar alike, who once looked to the party of Roosevelt for an outreached hand to help, to make college available to their children, to ensure their promise of an old age not mired in poverty, to offer all Americans hope that if they worked hard and obeyed the law and offered their own hand to a neighbor, they could create a future for their children that would be brighter than their own. The Democratic Party needs to ask those people why they feel alienated from the party now.
Republicans have got to build a wider, longer and more stable foundation with middle America, and with minorities and with young people. Whatever happened to Eisenhower Republicans? Or even to Reagan Republicans? It seems they have been shoved aside in the party by its most extreme elements who fancy themselves now in control but build their ideology on an antagonism toward African-Americans and immigrants and women and young people.
The country is not stronger in sharp, partisan division. Even the most enthusiastic Democrats and the most devoted Republicans understand that it is not healthy for one party to stay contentedly in control for long periods of time — at least, when both of those parties can offer not vociferous, angry differences but calm, philosophical ones. The transfer of power from one party to another, in the White House and in Congress, has produced a healthy country.
Consider that after FDR saved the country from a revolution during the Great Depression, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower engineered a period of calm, though he accomplished things such as the interstate highway system and some early if modest advances in civil rights. Though Ronald Reagan was seen as a philosophical hard-liner, his demeanor, his confidence, seemed to infect the country in a positive way. George H.W. Bush managed the end of the Cold War, and his gracious transfer of power to Bill Clinton set a standard for presidents of the last 25 years. Bill Clinton brought energy and economic comeback, and peace.
Today’s decision is important, as all are. But this year, the healing process — and whether political leaders can learn productive lessons and not just strategic ones — will be every bit as important.