Today is the day after. Someone has won. Another has lost. The “vox populi” has shouted or whimpered its approval or displeasure. I do not know which. These words were written days before but hopefully are relevant regardless of the outcome.
Jobs and the deficit were the pat responses regardless of the question. Now we demand complete answers from the victors. You are a winner, but is the nation the winner? Do you have malice toward none and charity for all? What sacrifices will you make and what offerings will you ask of us to bind our nation’s wounds?”
To all the candidates, winners and losers: Are you pleased with yourself? Are your mothers proud of your words and deeds? Would you use noble and fair to describe your message and methods? Are you comfortable with what was said in your behalf by others? Did you elevate the political dialogue or preach demagoguery?
It is naïve to think elections of the past were lessons of charity worthy to be taught in Sunday School. Yet there was a difference. In the beginning of the republic, the loser in the battle of the presidency became the vice president. One can only wonder what would be the case today. Imagine the same two who battled each other so ferociously and so long even residing in the same city, let alone sitting in the same room.
When time moved at a horse’s trot, separating the elections by two, four and six years was enough time to forget, to forgive and to heal. Reconciliation and deliberation were possible because the months for news to travel through the colonies facilitated conversation. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were bitter enemies with mutual personal feelings of betrayal. Yet in time and correspondence they became dear respecters of the other and their views on liberty and government.
At least in war the two sides declare a truce to collect the dead and wounded. Today there is no truce; there is no time off. It is total political war continuously. There is no restorative pause. There is only the start of the next election, and the next and the next.
Beyond the lack of rejuvenating conversation, our society’s attention span is worse than some 2-year-olds. If the three-hour Lincoln-Douglas debates were held today, people would be handing out Ritalin.
Furthermore, with modern electronics there is no forgetting and less forgiving. Something said years ago is relived with a click of a mouse. Without a respite, there is little time to bathe and wash off all the mud. With the Internet, the dirt is never really gone.
Lastly, victory at any cost is purchased with millions of robo-calls and non-stop TV ads that someone approved.
Washington gridlock is a conscious strategy to deny any glory whatsoever to the other guy. If the architects of this uncompromising paralysis are rewarded by the election of their candidates, we will see inaction and rabid partisanship become the norm. If one side has used nerve gas to win, then the other side is obligated to follow.
The obtaining and retention of power has become more important than the productive exercise of that power. If this continues we will continue to drift apart as a nation toward second-class status.
In days past, politicians had a life. In the end, George Washington went back to Mount Vernon. Jefferson returned to Monticello. Today, the power and wealth of government is so vast, it is beyond Solomon’s mines, El Dorado or Rome combined, the addiction is too great for some to recover. Few come home.
The result is more aggressive and never-ending campaigns. This leads to escalating hostilities, uncompromising partisanship, immobility and blame.
Democracy is tough when Americans hate Americans. It doesn’t have to be. Hug a Democrat; take a Republican to lunch. Listen more; talk less. Today is the day to change.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a practicing pediatrician for 30 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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