Jacqueline Finley: Putting the genie back in the bottle
My cousin, a California college professor, recently emailed me to say she believes that once the November election is finally over, the country will suffer from a collective case of PTSD.
I laughed when I read her message, but after some reflection, I think she has a point.
I’m not comparing the current presidential campaign to the type of trauma that brings on true Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I do feel, however, that the country is experiencing an ordeal that will probably not heal quickly after the election, and that negative repercussions — both for individuals and for our broader society — will be felt for months, if not years.
Heated campaigns are not new inventions; most presidential races have been at least somewhat contentious. We remember recent campaigns that were bitter, with free-flowing accusations and finger-pointing. I recently read a book that dissected the 1912 election, when Democrat Woodrow Wilson ran against both Republican incumbent William Howard Taft and former president and Progressive Party nominee, Theodore Roosevelt. I was surprised at how personal, even underhanded, the attacks were against all the candidates, especially since the era in question was a time considered one of some gentility.
There is something more ominous, however, about the current campaign.
During the Civil War it was often said that brother fought against brother. Now it seems that due to extreme political discord, friend is fighting friend, neighbor is fighting neighbor, and even family members are battling each other, due to the tenor of the current antagonistic campaign. I see cars with bumper stickers reading, “Hang the B—–,” and worse, and hear about local citizens afraid to put political signs in their yards for fear of reprisal. I recently experienced such low behavioral standards myself.
As in previous years, I volunteered at a political party booth at the recent Nevada County Fair. While most of the people who stopped by the booth were friendly and courteous, regardless of political beliefs or affiliation, there were several instances of sarcastic comments, extreme rudeness, profanity, and even veiled threats from passers-by.
When did our society sink so low that we need to menace each other or use offensive language? How did we become so divided that we can’t see there are more than just “left” and “right” positions and that compromise and reflective listening can be productive for all? As a child I recall my parents, staunch Democrats, having political conversations with their Republican friends. Everyone would voice his or her opinions, kid each other about their respective poor judgment in politicians, and ultimately agree that they all wanted what was best for the country.
They would never have said what has become a common declaration, i.e., that they hoped a new president and his administration would fail.
I believe that unless Americans, regardless of political affiliation or persuasion, tone down the anger, animosity, and “I want it my way” attitude, the post-election months are going to be as divisive and discordant as the actual campaign. If we, as a society, are not careful, we’ll find that come Nov. 9, the portion of the population that “lost” the White House will remain at a fever pitch of anger and resentment, preventing the country from healing its wounds, moving forward, and retaining — or regaining, depending on one’s belief — its traditionally admired position in the broader world.
Are we doomed to post-election PTSD? I don’t know. If the current malaise continues after the voting is done, maybe it isn’t so much PTSD as an extension of the past several years.
When are we, as a society, going to come back together as a united country, one that acknowledges our differences, but also believes we all have many of the same goals and that we can ultimately work with each other, regardless of political leanings, to reach them? This current presidential campaign is a true test of what we, as Americans, have for centuries claimed as our core belief: we are diverse, but that fact contributes to our strength. As individuals, we need to accept that we don’t always get exactly what we want. The greater good of the country is what counts. If we’re only looking out for ourselves, we shouldn’t consider ourselves Americans.
As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. We must find a way to put the genie back in the bottle and resume working together as a team.
Otherwise, the stress of the campaign will continue long after the new president is elected.
Jacqueline Finley lives in Grass Valley.
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“There is a cult of ignorance in this country … nurtured by the false notion that ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov, 1980.