I’m going to ask you to do three things today: One easy, two very hard.
The easy one: Vote. The Presidential election is obviously very close and, even if you don’t like either major party candidate, one of them will become the leader of the free world tomorrow. They have very different outlooks on the world, the economy, on how to defend the country, and how we treat people –both our own citizens and citizens of other nations. Choose one of the major party candidates even if you don’t like either of them very much. A protest vote for someone who has no chance of winning is like binge-eating all the Halloween candy — you’ll feel great tonight but might wake up tomorrow feeling sick when you see who won.
Now a harder ask: Compromise. Many of us are exasperated and, frankly, furious at our government. Not surprisingly, the focus of this venting has mainly been the people running for President. But I’d like to suggest that we’ve looked in the wrong place. The Founding Fathers assumed that Congress would be the main driver of America and the Executive and Judiciary branches were just there to carry out the will of Congress and play referee. There are 535 people in the House and Senate, divided more-or-less into two teams. Although I used the words “referee” and “teams” a moment ago, the sports analogy isn’t quite right. Unlike a football game, the game of America isn’t a winner-take-all event. If “Victory” is defined solely as getting more people on your team, it’s the wrong game. Congress’ job is to govern wisely and fairly. As we all should have learned in elementary school (not to mention from the Rolling Stones), you can’t always get what you want. Lately, the “game” of Congress seems to have been played by men and women who try to run out the clock on the other team by refusing to work with or even talk with the other side. You may think this is just the way it is and the way it has always been but that’s not true. The two teams have worked together to move this country forward for most of our history, each team sometime holding their nose a bit but seeing and working towards the greater good. Not so much recently. So my request this election is a hard one: Before casting your ballot for Senator or Congressman, don’t just ask if they represent your views (obviously part of the equation) but ask if they play well with the other kids. Most don’t seem to. Oddly, while studies show that most people think Congress is terrible and we need to “kick the bums” out, most people also support their own Senator or Congressman. This is the living embodiment of the old Garrison Keillor opening to Lake Wobegon where “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Folks, the math doesn’t pencil! Look very hard at these candidates for their ability to work with others, especially those they don’t agree with, to produce positive change for this country.
Now the really hard part: Civility. This is a word and a concept that has been lost during this campaign. I’m 49 years old and I’ve never seen this sort of animosity, name-calling, belittling, and outright hatred in an election during my lifetime. The sides are very polarized and, being human, most of us have let our emotions run a little hot recently and may have vented a bit on Facebook, Twitter, or your social media of choice. I’ve done it and maybe you have as well. So this is the hard part. Tomorrow either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will become our next President and begin a new era in American history. Regardless of our own preference, I ask that we each give the new President a chance to govern. Listen to what they actually say not just the pre-conceived notions we already have about them. Don’t call them nasty names, compare them to Hitler, or threaten to move to Canada. Give them a fair chance and insist that your Senators and Congressmen do too. Even more importantly, look kindly at your friends, neighbors, and relatives who may have supported the other candidate. As you drink your morning coffee (or latte or cappuccino if you live in Seattle), remember that your friends, neighbors, and relatives are drinking their coffee, too, right now. We all want a better place for our children, our nation, and our world. We are all united in those and many other beliefs although we’re divided in the specifics of how to make them happen. Make a pact with yourself to focus on the common beliefs of all Americans, not our differences. Talk with not at your friends, neighbors, and relatives. Only when we’re civilly talking and listening can we can change the world for the better.
One final note about comments to this blog: Ultimately, the whole point of this piece is to appeal for civility. While I will allow folks to mention their favorite candidates, I’ll insist that it’s always done in a positive manner. I will not approve and immediately delete any comment with negative statements about the other candidate or that uses derogatory names or language about anyone. To paraphrase the great words of Ron Burgundy, “Keep it classy, America.”