It was an interesting evening.
It always is.
I was warming a chair down at the county auditor’s office, keeping an eye on the precinct-by-precinct election results on behalf of the Associated Press — a ritual I’ve participated in since Bush the First faced down Li’l Mike Dukakis five presidents and eight presidential elections past. I was joined in the reserved conference room by a Winona State poli-sci major reporting for the Edison Project and a collegiate poll watcher whose black nylon Trump Train jacket, Miller for Senate cap, an Trump/Pence bumper sticker emblazoned on his laptop lid left little question as to his partisan allegiance.
“Not your first rodeo,” he said, nodding in my direction as he settled in at the far end of the long table. “Not hardly,” I admitted, and, ice broken and with nothing to do but wait until delivery of the first poll results, a conversation broke out.
It was exquisitely civil, though the underlying tension was evident — as it always seems to be when contemporary talk turns to public affairs and public figures in a public place.
To his credit, the young partisan observer addressed the elephant in the room. Division in the country had gotten so bad, he said, he was becoming wary of even talking about it. He told of being angrily confronted, taunted and all but threatened by people he’d not approached, spoken to or even seen before simply because of the jacket or cap he was wearing. “There’s so much anger,” he said, “I’m concerned what might happen if the vote goes the wrong way.”
He didn’t specific what the “wrong way” would be.
Well, by now we know that for nearly half the people who cast a vote, the election did go the wrong way. Fortunately, most of the worst folks might have feared hasn’t come to pass. Yet.
But, it hasn’t gone away, either.
I remember a number of things that young man said, hunched in his Trump Train jacket, clearly concerned how the outcome of the vote would shape his future. He was looking toward a career in law or business, he said, and he and his family were working hard to make that happen. He was rightly proud of what they had accomplished and wanted to protect those accomplishments.
He was reasonable enough.
Most of us are reasonable enough. He didn’t show up with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder, didn’t claim a Q-conspiracy was afoot, didn’t search the waste baskets and crawl through the dumpster in search of missing Republican ballots.
He behaved as most of the 70-plus million folks who are likely disappointed in the election’s outcome behave. Reasonably.
Which means folks on the other side ought to behave reasonably in return.
We’ve been reminded that the folks who see politics differently are not our enemies, and that is true enough.
And even if they do feel like enemies, perhaps it’s time to recall how our Sunday School lessons instructed us to treat our enemies.
People are complicated. Not one of us has the same lived experience as any other, and the beliefs shaped by that experience are not always easy to understand, much less sympathize with.
But we are complicated people living in an ever more complicated world. A world that in the space of short lifetimes has changed beyond imagining. Perhaps it’s time we refocused our politics, refocused from the issues on which we differ, to the matters upon which we agree. Look more to compromise, to half a loaf, than to victory.
In 1968, a year in which the country was profoundly divided, Richard Nixon, a politician whose reputation remains deeply divisive, adopted a slogan suggested by a placard held by a 13-year-old girl at a Michigan rally: “Bring us together.”
It’s time to do Nixon one better.
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