Most people I speak with agree that we haven’t ever seen such a divisive Presidential campaign as the one we’ve been enduring this year. Bush vs. Gore was rough, and I can vaguely remember Kennedy vs. Nixon – a scowling “crook” versus the Catholic who his opponents predicted would put the White House under the thumb of the Pope.
But I just don’t remember such personalized venom being thrown around like we’ve been seeing lately.
Part of it comes from the ease of putting our opinions out there for the world to see on social media. In the past, most of us would discuss politics with friends and people who pretty much saw things the same way we did. Face-to-face discussion made it difficult to get into personal name-calling, which you might do only at risk of either losing a friend or getting smacked in the face.
But much of it comes from the tenor of the candidates and, in particular, the Republican nominee. I’m not writing this to comment on the platforms or positions taken by either of the candidates, but rather as a hopefully impartial observation of the campaign. Right from the start of the first primary debates, Trump set a highly personal and insulting tone, full of personal name-calling (Little Marco, Low-Energy Jeb, Crooked Hillary) that set the bar historically low for others to follow.
To their credit, most of the other candidates didn’t stoop quite as low with personal insults and junior high school taunts. But it opened the floodgates for Trump’s followers to take the same tone of nastiness in their personal and online conversations.
I saw a post on Facebook a few days ago asking how many others have unfollowed or blocked online friends to try to avoid heated and potentially nasty confrontations. Most said they had blocked some friends. I’ve unfollowed a few people who disagree with me politically only because when I’ve tried to engage them in a civil discussion, they came back to me with insults. One woman who I know from riding the elevator at work cursed at me on my Facebook feed and then started making anti-Semitic comments.
In one week, finally, one group or the other will be happy while the other will be frustrated. Unlike during the tight Bush vs. Gore election, where the two sides seemed to have gotten past the partisanship, I fear this election will be different. The animosity between the two sides has been so strong and so highly personal and nasty that I fear it will not go away on November 9th or for a long time after.
My hope is that whoever wins next week, he or she will lead a concerted effort to rebuild the bridges. Perhaps a bi-partisan group should be appointed by the new President, with Congressional input, to publicly explore ways to heal the divide and restore civility to our political discussions.
And if the proceedings are covered on C-SPAN so we can all see and offer comment, maybe we can begin to come together again. Coming together doesn’t mean we all must think alike. Instead, it means we should be able to calmly and respectfully discuss what divides us as a nation and work together to find common ground.
Maybe it’s a pipe dream. But I do think it’s not healthy for us to continue the nastiness that only serves to widen the gap.