I’m probably not alone in thinking that one of the more disturbing aspects of this most recent presidential election wasn’t that over 70 million people across the country voted for such a divisive candidate (though that number is incredibly troublesome when you think about it).
More so, it was that millions of people and scores of media outlets rejected the validity of the outcome, contrary to the facts. How is it that we’ve come to this point, and do we stand a chance in bridging such a great divide anytime soon?
Of course, this phenomenon didn’t occur overnight. It snowballed over time until it reached its crescendo on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on January 6 of this year. Baseless claims that the election was “stolen” due to voter fraud and ballot tossing had been categorically struck down by the courts, and yet a significant number of members of congress knowingly continued to challenge the counts certified by the Electoral College after something so unthinkable as a violent insurrection in their workplace threatened our democracy.
“We are in a serious crisis of consciousness, beginning with how we understand the reality we live in and the principles we live by,” said Dr. Robert Atkinson of the University of Southern Maine in a recent piece in Psychology Today. “We have oceans of misinformation and falsehood flooding the world, causing millions to become detached from reality. Opposing forces are more pronounced than ever, sowing contradictions and divisions everywhere.”
Indeed, those divisions can be found in nearly every corner of our society — from something as simple as refusing to wear a mask in public spaces to the way we treat others who’ve crossed our borders, escaping the unspeakable horrors and persecution of their birthplace. Particularly maddening has been the outright rejection, in the eyes of some extremists, that this virus even exists — that the pandemic and many other “off-the-wall” proclamations are somehow a conspiracy theory being driven by liberal media and the like.
One might assume that some of these choices in what to believe should be “no-brainers” when it comes to our response to such challenges. Clearly, as this election proved — a large swath of America feels otherwise.
What many of us may not realize is just how intentional and calculated this divide has been, and that it has been propagated by professional strategists over the course of decades.
As someone who worked behind the scenes in a non-political capacity some 35 years ago for one of the country’s premiere pollsters, I saw firsthand the strategic machinations being implemented throughout countless campaigns.
The incessant drumbeat of negative advertising, personal attacks and branding of their opponents was not only repugnant at times, but sadly, proved to be highly effective. As a matter of fact, some of those very same operatives, dating back to the Reagan era, continue to be in operation, currently immersed in political campaigns, both here and abroad.
Will the new administration and Congress find ways to bridge this seemingly cavernous divide? Time will tell. At the moment, the acrimony amongst politicians, as well as amongst the general public, seems to have ebbed ever so slightly, according to recent polls.
History has shown on multiple occasions that, for a democracy to work, it isn’t absolutely necessary for those on each side of the political spectrum to be completely empathetic to the other’s often “entrenched” positions on issues.
What we do need is respectful dialogue, and a willingness to find resolutions in reaching a common goal. There are plenty of “shared use” projects within every community (playgrounds, after-school programs, sports leagues, food banks etc), where folks can come together for the greater good, leaving all politics aside.
David Brooks, in one of his recent columns in the New York Times, captured this sentiment rather succinctly: “The voters reminded us yet again that the other side is not going away. We have to dispense with the fantasy that after the next miracle election our side will suddenly get everything it wants. We have to live with one another. The key is loosening the grip the culture war has had on our politics and governance. Let’s fight our moral difference with books, sermons, movies and marches, not with political coercion.”