“In nature, there are neither rewards nor punishments, only consequences”, wrote Robert Ingersoll, the 19th century political thinker, who could have been describing our 2020 national elections.
Campaign rhetoric has displayed our bitter partisanship eroding into destructive polarization in which each side charges opponents with not only error and hostility but with fraud, evil intent, national disloyalty and national self-hatred.
In our present stalemate, we must avoid a governmental gridlock from which everyone suffers. We all benefit from competent government, with sound administration of education, healthcare and public safety, and with effective efforts to deal with unemployment, poverty and homelessness.
Respected leaders of both parties must help their constituencies understand the fears and anxieties of their political opponents, to realize their suspicions of threats to their pocketbooks and to their status and self-esteem. All participants in the political spectrum should realize that we share goals – freedom with responsibility, the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives and to see the life-prospects of our children even better than our own. Our challenge is to determine how, given different perspectives (social, economic, political) we can work together for our mutual benefit.
Most importantly, we all – individually and collectively – must help strengthen and revitalize the social and political institutions on which a healthy, vibrant democratic society depends. We must revive “trust” – in the truthfulness of a free press, in the accuracy of our scientists, in the essential validity of the messages of our political figures. Without these, a modern multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, automated and high-tech democratic society cannot flourish.
Historians will debate the extent to which Donald Trump was an aberration or a symptom – a disturbed individual or an indication of profound national anxieties. We can only hope that, in due course, the pendulum will swing back and that civility, integrity and character will again be esteemed in our public leadership.