For the past several months, Republicans and Democrats have spent millions of dollars and invested countless hours to convince us that those on the other side are not just wrong, they’re corrupt, dishonest, greedy, thieving cowards. That was the easy part, at least for them. Those dishonest attack ads may have been painful for us, but the creativity behind some of them suggest that somebody was having fun making them. Now, those same Republicans and Democrats will have to work together. That’s going to be hard.
The good news is that at the local level, things were far more civil and respectful. Peter Goodman and I had the chance to interview candidates in all the local races. Those discussions stuck to the issues and avoided personal attacks.
That was not the case at the national level.
At the Democratic Convention this year, we were told if Donald Trump wins:
“More mom and pop businesses will close their doors and this time for good. Working families will struggle to get by, and yet the wealthiest 1 percent will get tens of billions of dollars in new tax breaks.” - Joe Biden.
“Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.” - Barack Obama.
“At its most basic, this election is about preserving our democracy.” - Bernie Sanders.
At the Republican Convention we were told if Joe Biden wns:
“We give free rein to the violent anarchists, and agitators, and criminals who threaten our citizens.” - Donald Trump.
“You will bring this lawlessness to your city, to your town, to your suburb.” Rudy Giuliani.
“That hard truth is, you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.” - Mike Pence.
Well, that’s just great. One guy is going to break the government; the other will lead us to a dystopian hellscape. It’s morning in America all over again.
And it’s not just the race for president. The negative advertising in the race for Congress between Xochitl Torres Small and Yvette Herrell has been overwhelming in the past few weeks. We haven’t been able to open our mailbox or turn on our TV without being told that Torres Small is dishonest and Herrell is corrupt. Those are the messages that have been relentlessly driven home to voters, and will remain with them long after the election is over.
How do we come together now, after having invested so much money, time and passion into splitting ourselves apart? Do we even try, or has our politics become a never-ending cycle of payback and recrimination each time power changes hands?
The gridlock and division have come at a particularly inopportune time. Our inability to unite behind a national strategy to defeat the common enemy of the coronavirus has resulted in enormous death and suffering. And the worst days may still be ahead of us.
Every level of our government, from the City Council to the U.S. Congress and president, will face an enormous challenge in the coming year. The pandemic will continue to spread death and misery, impacting all aspects of our lives.
It is not a challenge we can meet while still fighting against ourselves.
Elections are about fantasy. Like-minded people come together and dream about all the great changes they will make.
Governing is about reality. People who are not at all like-minded are forced together to hammer out not-so-great compromises. That’s always been hard, and it’s getting harder.
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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