Can America ever get back to being America again? Given the animus and hatred that has surfaced during this election campaign, this is not a frivolous question? The answer depends to a great degree on your previous vision of what America was and what your expectations are about what the future will bring when the election is over.
The anger and vituperation that we have seen every day on the Internet and television and heard on the radio over the last year did not just suddenly arise. It has been building for decades, constructed out of partisan lies and exaggerations believed by an uninformed electorate, whose civic and political knowledge comes from an echo chamber of sources, particularly talk radio and alternative media. But it has been magnified by the Trump campaign, willing to pursue victory by enhancing the nation’s divisions, demonizing opponents, and voicing conspiracy theories with no basis in fact. This has stoked his supporters’ fury against those who oppose their supposed savior in any way, and raises the possibility of violence if Trump loses the election.
According to mental health professionals, this election has produced more stress and anxiety than any recent past contests, likely because citizens view it and the candidates in such stark blacks and whites. Will the anger and stress just dissipate after the election is over? The anticipation and uncertainty will be gone, but whichever candidate wins, the White House will be occupied by a person that nearly half the country despises. How will this president get his or her opponents to accept his or her legitimacy and work with this person who has been declared the victor by our electoral system?
Since Bill Clinton’s presidency, the political rancor and partisanship between the parties (and their supporters) has been growing and is now overwhelming, the attempt to impeach Clinton perhaps the point of no return. However, George W. Bush’s justification for the war in Iraq and his failure to find weapons of mass destruction generated passionate antagonism among the opponents of the war and itself increased partisanship.
And Obama’s presidency has been marked by conservative hostility to him personally, with a large percentage of Republicans still unwilling to acknowledge his American heritage and Christianity, believing he is secretly a Muslim and that his actions are meant to destroy the nation. They cite Obamacare and his executive orders to improve the environment and cut global warming as examples of his duplicity. There is also the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s comment about his most important job being to assure that Obama was a one-term president, rather than cooperating with him on legislation for the good of the nation.
The refusal of the Senate to confirm Obama’s moderate nominee Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is another illustration of the extreme partisanship that exists, even though previously Garland appeared quite acceptable to Senate Republicans. And the obstructionism will not stop if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. At least three Republican senators have already said that they will not confirm any of Clinton’s nominees to the Supreme Court before she has even mentioned any names. How can government function when the executive and legislative branches cannot work together because of hostility and partisanship? This was not the way democracy was envisioned when the Founding Fathers designed the structure of the government.
Thus, it is unlikely that America will change after this election is decided. America will continue to be the America it has been for the last several decades, which does not present a pretty picture to the world and is distressing to our youth. In fact, America is likely to become even worse in the short run. How does all the venom, hatred, misogyny, and racism that emerged during the campaign get put back into the bottle and tightly corked? That is not likely to happen. It will continue to spew out and splatter the citizens of this nation, engendering even more hostility and antagonism between political opponents and various groups.
The changing demographics and the emergence of new roles for women will eventually transform America but much pain and violence is likely to precede this evolution. Uneducated white men are threatened by the transformation and saw Trump as their standard-bearer. If he loses…..We can hope for peace and good will but the anger and feelings by some that their needs are being ignored and they are being left behind by government policies does not bode well for a tranquil transition and resolution of differences.
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