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.