How do we recover from our election hangover?
I was 20 years old when I had my first opportunity to vote in a presidential election. I was thrilled! I had my candidate’s bumper sticker on my car and I was confident he would be victorious.
Four years later I had another opportunity to pick a presidential candidate and I did so with enthusiasm. This time I actually knew my candidate. Although I did not know him well, we did meet and I enjoyed his sense of humor and his dedication to public service as well as his commitment to coalition building. I just knew he was the best person to lead our country and I was proud to vote for him.
Of the seven presidential elections I’ve voted in, my chosen candidate won only three times. I’ve known the thrill of victory, but more often I’ve felt the agony of defeat.
The American people have endured a brutal campaign season the past 18 or so months. A campaign that came to a conclusion last night as election results rolled in state by state. We have a winner. An unpredicted winner. The polls, practically all of them, were wrong. The media was wrong. We are all experiencing some level of shock today. For some it’s an exuberant shock, for others devastating shock.
About 50 percent of the popular vote went to the loser. So how do we recover? How do we move past the disappointment, hateful rhetoric, and divisive Facebook posts?
First, we remember that our representative democracy is the best system on earth. The average American has a voice regarding our governance. Win or lose, our votes matter, we can vote representatives in and out of office. Our democracy has weathered the test of time. Although comparatively we are a young nation, we have presented our system of government many unique challenges and she has risen to the task and handled them beautifully.
Second, whether you believe it or not, this is not the worst time in American history. Many will say they have never seen our nation so divided. They have never seen such dark and difficult days.
To those that believe this is bad as it’s ever been, I encourage you to read up on your American history. Just a quick survey of the past 150 years is replete with examples of times that were far worse. From the horrors of slavery to the blood spilled in civil war. From the growing pains of shifting from an agrarian society to an industrialized society. To a global war, then a second global war. To the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. And remember the time we fought back against a murderous Nazi psychopath and won. We refused to allow our fellow citizens to be denied basic civil rights. We have seen our buildings fall and our sense of personal security shattered. We have seen tough times and we have persevered and come out stronger on the other side.
But in order to recover from this election hangover there are a few specific things we all must do. First, pick up a history book. Refresh your knowledge about the founding of this nation, about the trials and tribulations we have faced and overcome.
Second, diversify your sources of news and information. Do not make the mistake of relying on only one news source to keep yourself informed. Be it television, newspaper, or blogspot — diversify.
Third, scale back your exposure to social media and expand your exposure to actual people. You have to understand that people paid specifically to stir the pot of hate and divisiveness write many of the comments on social media. Reading the comments gives you a false sense of reality. Enjoy social media as a medium to see photographs of your friends’ children, and to share your favorite recipes, but don’t use it as a source of news and information.
Fourth, expand your circle of friends. There was a time I believed the majority of people in America had a four-year college degree. Because, most everyone I knew had one so it stood to reason others did too. The fact is only about 30 percent of Americans have a four-year college degree. If we have a tight circle of friends that think, look, and live like we do, we begin to experience a skewed sense of place. When is the last time you had someone into your home for a meal that has a different color skin than you? When is the last time you had a reasonable and respectful conversation about a controversial topic with someone who disagrees with your views? When is the last time you drove to the other side of town to shop at a store or dine at a restaurant? Do all of those things. If we avoid confronting our fear of the Other, then that fear grows and festers. However, if we face our fear, we will quickly realize our concerns of the unknown were largely unfounded.
Is there someone in your workplace, church, or neighborhood you don’t trust? Get to know them. Do you have a local leader who made a decision that you disagree with? Instead of running them down behind their back or in a letter to the editor, call them on the phone and discuss the issue personally. I bet they would appreciate the opportunity to speak to you directly. Healing from the hate, fear, and divisiveness will only come through relationship building on a local level and that can happen regardless of who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
As individuals, most of us cannot effect significant change on the national level. But what you can do is take your sick neighbor a meal. You can reach out to the child of the single mom who struggles to find enough time to spend with them because she works three jobs. You can ask that coworker to lunch that rubs you the wrong way. Endeavor to actually get to know them and what fuels their personality.
We do not have to agree with everyone in order to get along. But we can respect people even when they disagree with us. We can choose to impact the community where we are placed. We must consistently and confidently stand for our core values, while simultaneously recognizing the fact there is much opportunity to find common ground on the myriad issues that confront us each day.
And now that you’ve read this article, turn off your computer. Take a walk in your neighborhood and introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. Do what I tell my children to do every morning as they get out of the car at school: be kind and respectful to everyone you meet. While the current challenges are great, history has shown our time spent in the valley is always followed by remarkable mountaintop experiences. Press on friends, we are America, and that means something!
Ronda M. Walker is a wife, mother, and member of the Montgomery County Commission.