Whew. Glad that’s over!
Assuming the Russians didn’t hack our voting machines, that not too many dead folks exercised their constitutional rights and that Chad isn’t hanging around, we probably picked a president last night.
One of the most despised candidates in American history will become the most powerful person in the world; the other will have to go back to cashing in on their name.
Roughly half of us will be shaking with vindication – that ecstatic feeling that we didn’t just win, but were proven right; confirmation that the world is as we see it. The rest will be shaking with the rage.
Their anger will be amplified by the hollow and hypocritical calls of the victors to put aside our differences and come together in the name of democracy – and their agenda.
Sure, if we were absolutely rational beings the winners would see that the fury from the other side not could but would have been their own. The losers would see that their bitterness is not only infantile but destructive.
That won’t happen. The next four days, months and years will be ugly.
That’s the price we will pay for debasing ourselves this past year. The past is never dead. No magic wand can wish away the vitriol. How can Democrats do anything but fight tooth and nail against a president they consider a fascist psychopath? How can Republicans find common ground with someone they’ve portrayed as a criminal who should be in a prison cell rather than the Oval Office?
And that’s not the worst of it. This campaign was different than any other in our lifetimes because we didn’t just demonize the opposing candidates but each other. In a shamefully negative election, we didn’t just vote for Trump or Clinton, but against their irredeemable supporters.
The hyper-partisanship that has been building since the 1990s is only going to intensify. The identity politics that has transmogrified out party preferences into anchors of our very being will only deepen. The belief that those who disagree with us are not just wrong, but dangerous and immoral will continue to shape our culture. We will continue to call others un-American because we don’t know who we are.
Some have likened our divide to those in sports, where we exhibit unwavering loyalty to our blameless team and blind hatred of our rivals. In fact, our differences are much deeper and troubling; they are more akin to the irreconcilable differences we see in the Middle East where Sunni and Shia, Israelis and Palestinians cannot forge peace because they have truly come to believe the other side is evil.
It breaks my heart.
If the problem were simply conceptual – how we see our nation and each other – we might be able to get our heads straight and forge a better path. But the divisions exposed in this campaign, between the successful elites and the struggling middle class, between urban and rural, declining whites and rising minorities reflect physical realities that appear, right now, irreparable.
If this substance-free campaign confirmed anything, it is that our leaders have little understanding of the problems we face and even fewer solutions. We spent more than a year calling each other names because we don’t know how to restore good jobs for many of our citizens, because we don’t know how to deal with the isolating effects of technology and the breakdown of traditional institutions, because we haven’t figured out how to define ourselves as a single people in a world of vanishing borders.
Heck, we can’t even address the relatively easy problem of figuring out how to pay for all the things we want. I understand those who say that our politics have been ugly in the past – but the lessons of the Civil War offer little solace.
The fact is we live in a time of plenty – the average American enjoys more material comfort than ever before – but also one of frightening, disruptive change.
The old center is not holding. We are not on the verge of anarchy or insurrection. But we shouldn’t pretend that we can turn the raging spit and foam swirling around us into a placid sea of community. We face immense challenges. The best we can hope for is to ride them out until we can see the better course – it’s there! – that still lies beyond the horizon.
I hope I’m wrong. But that’s how it looks.
Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@ jpederzane.com.