For the second time in five Presidential elections, a Democratic candidate for President has won the popular vote and failed to accumulate enough Electoral votes to win the election. While some Americans will complain about the function of the Electoral College (and others will continue to complain about the function of superdelegates and collusion in the Democratic Party Primary), the rest of the country has turned to focus on what comes next.
What comes next?
After a year of vitriol and demonization of political difference in compatriots, the pundits and politicians are telling us it’s time to pack up and carry on. To remember what we have in common, to embrace our commonalities, and be respectful. President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s acceptance speech included this: “To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across the nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me.” That sounds quite different from the sorts of things President-Elect Trump said on the campaign trail, and its inclusiveness is very far removed from the political messages advocated by some of his more outspoken supporters.
It would be wrong to move on from this point without noting the existence of exclusive and insulting language and actions by persons opposing President-Elect Trump’s candidacy as well, including Secretary Clinton in her now-infamous “basket of deplorables” moment. The purpose of this post isn’t to compare one or the other group’s relative contributions to the vicious political climate in the United States: it is to simply say that such a climate exists, clearly, and that persons from all across the political spectrum – including members of our major and minor parties, as well as independents – have contributed to its existence.
It might seem unreasonable, then, for us to be asked to go about our lives as if such a devastating (or glorious) thing has not just occurred; as if none of these awful things which were said back and forth in a hotly-contested (and generally substance-lacking) election process. Stephen Colbert, in the closing monologue of his election night special, cited data from the Pew Research Center which shows that over 40% of Democrats and Republicans think “the other party’s policies are so misguided that they pose a threat to the nation”, and it’s easy to see why. Among the myriad goals in President-Elect Trump’s plan of action for his first 100 days in office is to end funding to all UN climate initiatives. As Julie MacArthur has already commented, this is not a good thing. One major fear among politically conservative voters was that a “liberal” President might somehow fill the bench of Supreme Court Justices with people who would force political conservatives to live against their values, or change the political shape of the United States to one that is fundamentally wrong in conservative eyes.
This isn’t the first time in recent history that American politics has been met with this sort of broad, public demand for civility: it’s only been 5 years since Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot – an event which is widely tied back to the violent imagery included in the political discourse of Sarah Palin and others – and the message was sent out that we should all love one another, look for common ground, and tone down the rhetoric.
How can we possibly move forward?
One answer is to make deliberate efforts to engage in civil discussions about our important moral and political differences with our friends and family, and to appreciate – by being respectfully critical of – those differences during the process of our discussions. This idea, “get over our differences by talking about them, even if it doesn’t resolve the differences which exist” might seem counterintuitive to people who live by the rule of avoiding “the big three” – politics, money, and religion – in discussions with friends and family, but this method offers a number of advantages to the latter alternative: we get to know those nearest and dearest to us better; we become more regularly and thoroughly exposed to moral and political differences, and begin to better situate our own views as one among many in the history of Western thought; we get to better understand how those with whom we differ in important ways think and reason about what the right thing to do (or good way to be) is. All of these things allow us to appreciate difference, rather than ignore or minimize it, which seems to be dominant in political practice despite the resolution of this conflict in the relevant scholarship, and could potentially make future events – like Brexit, or a Donald J. Trump Presidency – less unexpected (or unfathomable) than they have been.
Jordan Hanford is a doctoral student in Politics and Philosophy at the University of Auckland