As of this writing, ballots for the 2020 Presidential election are still being counted. But, whoever wins, one thing is certain: there was no clear mandate for either President Trump or former Vice President Biden. And irrespective of the final tally, the results hold a significant lesson for all Americans: The country is deeply divided. Supporters of both presidential candidates had predicted a landslide victory. Neither was correct. Now the hard work begins.

One thing that has been revealed is that we exist in bubbles where we hear the headlines we want to hear. I am guilty of this. I get my news from sympathetic progressive sources (MSNBC, New York Times, CNN, NPR). I have a hard time listening to Fox News, for example. Reporters’ words seem too discordant to my lived reality, but I am reminded on this day that I must be more disciplined and force myself to pay attention to other media outlets.

Living in silos further harms and divides us as a nation. To minimize this, we must be attentive to the sources from which we receive our information. This is not to say that we should give up our principles or the criteria upon which we determine where truth lies, but it is essential that we consider messaging from a range of sources—sometimes conflicting sources—as we make decisions on the direction of our civic engagement.

As individuals, we must focus on tools of discernment in order to better equip ourselves with accurate information as we decide how to act together and how to react to one another. The challenge is clear: if we are to be successful as a society in moving past this divisive election, it is more evident than ever that we reach out to those with whom we differ politically. In order to mitigate those differences, we must be empathetic, seeking to better understand why others feel the way they do.

I have often written in these posts about my disappointment in the President’s lack of empathy. But the clarion call in these election results is obvious. I must turn this challenge inward. I need to be more empathetic with those who disagree with my priorities and my positions. I have written sympathetically in these posts about realities in communities—especially rural white communities—that include a majority of Trump supporters (and as reaffirmed in this week’s election). It is essential that I personally intensify my own efforts in this empathetic journey. My language about others must be more gracious; my support for policies must include an additional layer of considered understanding of the views among those with whom I disagree.

If we are to move forward together as a nation, qualities like dignity and respect, mutual understanding, patience, sensitivity and generosity of thought must prevail. There will be ample time to focus on specific policies and programs, but first we need to establish trust, an essential ingredient in national unity. This is the task ahead—for each of us. Certainly, overtly aggressive actions we witnessed on the part of some Trump supporters are inappropriate; but it is imperative that everyone who seeks to build bridges of mutual respect is not intimidated into inaction, but rather alert to the perspectives of others and inclusive in articulating pathways to problem-solving.

As we wait for final election results—whatever the outcome—we must commit ourselves to intentionally expanding our efforts to listen to one another and to understand each other so that together we can move forward to end the pandemic, improve the economy, address systemic racism, fight climate change and build up our credibility on the world stage. It’s hard work, but there is no other way.

8 thoughts on “The First Step Forward

  1. I admire you Bob for carrying the idealistic torch. Yes I’d like to understand sources of the anger and willful ignorance of the 48% voting (having seen how he operates for 4 years) to continue his regime.
    What are the means, the channels for such communication?
    With whom can we interact?
    Not Mitch McConnel or Trump or those cult followers risking their lives by crowding his mask free rallies.
    Not his armed thugs whom he ordered to “Stand down but stand by”.
    Our democratic institutions and civic values seem destroyed.
    Ideas on either taking refuge or paths for restoration are welcomed!

    1. Well, you’re sure you already have all the answers. What’s the sense in even including you in the “discussion” that has to take place (because the country is so divided)?? I believe it’s “people like you” who are the problem, not people like us.

  2. I think you are right on. I was thinking the same thing. As I was standing in line yesterday, here in Trump country, I kept asking myself what is it that these people don’t get. They were all sure it was going to be a Trump landslide and I kept saying to myself, yeah we will see who gets the land slide. Then watching the results come in last night it hit me that all these people can’t be inept and that I am just not seeing something. It is a silo we all live in, most of these people are decent human beings that I call my friends, brother, etc. So I put this on us, a take away from this election no matter the outcome, to look past the pompous imbecile in the WH, and begin to understand what we are missing.

  3. -Hey Bob, you are hereby granted dispensation from absorbing a full slate of FoxNews (and Newsmax and OAN) all in one dose. I’ve had the FoxNews link on my phone for quite a few years, and it does build perspective, tolerance and maybe, character. But I’d suggest that you start with no more than 30 seconds of Tucker, Sean, Laura or Brett in one sitting, and always with the mute button handy.
    -I think that the fundamental political questions that this election raises are 1) voter turnout +21mm (which probably means +/-30mm voters who didn’t vote last time voted this time), and 2) the apparent disconnect for people of faith between their expressed beliefs and what they are willing to tolerate in their leaders. Figuring out who these folks are and why they vote the way they do is the path forward, at least for the next election.

  4. I, too, listen constantly to NPR & MSNBC and, now and then touch base with Fox.. But maybe I don’t really have your open-mindedness.. You all seem more willing than I am to at least understand what motivates the behaviors and choices of these “others” and to engage with them in a meaningful way. Maybe because I HAVE done this on so, so many occasions, with different indiduals and groups and found, sadly, that deep down, there’s little “there” there to even work with. Like Jesus’s advice about the pearls.. (Am I more troubled by my increasing unwillingness or by my sadness and alarm that what I fear and suspect may be true?). I will say that this last 36 hours has been a rollercoaster.. And it’s not over.

  5. Even in my own family there are some political differences of opinion. The byword here is to listen and I find that some of the ideas are the same. I believe that we all are trying to find meaning in this life, and some find it in different ways. Being inundated in misinformation on all sides, I have found that my ‘common sense’ and my faith in God have seen me through with my sanity intact. At 88 what more can I ask?

  6. The polling industry has been peddling snake oil since its inception.

    Want to know what voters are thinking? Take a ride from any urban center through the inner-ring and outer suburbs, past the near-rural towns and out to the farmlands, all the while taking stock of the election-cycle yard signs. Now factor in the wealthy (re: few in number, starkly Republican, extremely high voter turnout), the poor and voter-disenfranchised (re: densely-populated urban centers, heavily Democratic, very low voter turnout) as well as white and Hispanic males (re: widely spread in urban, suburban and rural areas, deeply patriarchal, First and Second Amendment supporters, closet supremacists, medium to heavy voter turnout) and the under-30’s (vocal, passionate, low voter turnout), then note the ratios and do the math.

    We are a nation that, for better or worse — and often for the worse, votes as do our neighbors vote. We, as the body electorate, are frequently disinclined to engage in discernment.

    The Electoral College was created by the U.S. founding fathers, the patriarchal term “fathers” notwithstanding, in part because of a deep-seated distrust by those founders in the concept of a well-informed electorate.

    The rising (and disturbing) tribalism evident in political party affiliation is part and parcel of 21st century politics. As Bob Kent notes in his comment above, relying on the media to hear the voice of the other among us can be a thankless and often unrewarding task.

    The feeling here is that we do best when, over great stretches of time, we advance, slowly and collectively, step by step towards a better system and better justice — for all.

    As someone far more thoughtful than this voter once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

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