This election exposed major divisions in the United States. The aim now should be to mend — not inflame — them.
In the days leading up to the Nov. 8 election, many were worried Donald Trump’s statements about the outcome possibly being “rigged” would, should he lose, lead to protests in the streets.
Trump won, and, ironically, America has still seen protests in the streets.
One protestor in Salt Lake City set fire to an American flag on the steps of the state Capitol. This disturbing act added little to the political discourse. After all, the flag itself represents the guarantee of constitutional freedoms, including the freedom that allows for public flag burning.
Surely the flag burner did not intend to say that this and other precious freedoms were worthy of flames.
On one level, this phenomenon should be a lesson to politicians about the damaging effects of nasty campaigning. Both major candidates engaged in it this season, and Trump specifically made statements about certain minorities and religious groups that created deep angst.
Yet, a sample of recent protestors arrested in Oregon revealed that a majority of the protesters did not vote or were not even registered to vote.
The right to protest and the freedom to assemble are fundamental rights. They have also been the catalyst of important social change throughout American history. Yet, when a protest lingers long after an election, and in some instances causes danger, putting added strain on law enforcement, the utility of such a post-election protest is questionable.
More perilous is that such protests often cause politics to become so polarized that it makes it hard for politicians to work together.
Real political solutions come from listening, understanding, mutual respect and compromise. The business of persuading and unifying is hard work. Uncomfortable as it may sound, it takes a healthy dose of empathy and human compassion.
Not everyone who runs can be a winner, but democracy (even the kind that employs the Electoral College) is an expression of national will. Respect for election results and democratic institutions has served the United States well for more than two centuries and is more important than continually expressing displeasure with the system or the president-elect without constructively engaging with both. The time for protestors to become more politically active is before an election so they can better influence the direction of the nation through proper channels.
As for the American system of governance, it includes enough checks and balances to keep presidents from becoming dictators. Republicans may control both houses of Congress, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Trump always gets his way. And it is a system that continually changes based on engagement and participation.
Burning flags and handwringing does very little in our democracy, but casting ballots and participating meaningfully in party politics can do quite a lot.