Happy Thanksgiving! I am extremely thankful to be an American, always. If my great grandparents had not moved to this county, my family on both sides would have perished in Europe (and many did). That said, some of the things that I believe distinguish this country as exemplary are eroding, and all of us, of every political stripe, can help alleviate our current political crisis.
As a moderate, I sympathize with some of both the liberal and the conservative reactions to this election. I believe that there is not enough viewpoint diversity in our most influential institutions, like the media, academia, and even organizations like the American Bar Association (which wields a lot of power to control the legal profession). But I am concerned about Republicans undermining important civil rights and civil liberties, such as gay rights and reproductive freedoms. I am a free speech enthusiast and appreciate that even the most offensive “hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment, despite what many believe. But I am profoundly saddened by the spate of hate crimes, vandalism, violence, and bigoted speech (even if legal) targeting racial and religious minorities committed by those emboldened by the election results.
Solutions are being offered on the myriad problems plaguing our country. From my, admittedly moderate, perspective, what we need is a return to principles. The idea of fighting bitterly against one’s political enemy, challenging in court all legislation we dislike, and using the Supreme Court as a new legislative branch has become a race to the bottom. Perspective is needed. Battles must be chosen. When Democrats refuse to confirm a Republican judicial nominee, Republicans use it as justification to refuse to even allow a judicial nominee a vote. Both parties now believe the other is full of unprincipled hypocrites, and they use this understanding of the world to engage in the very same behavior, just to serve different causes. From my vantage point, it is shameful.
What is needed is humility in discourse and in action. We need a higher bar for when one’s opinion should elicit a snide remark instead of a charitable listen. We need to really engage with others as if we wish to learn something. And we need to refuse to promote in our own ranks the behavior we chastise on the other side.
This does not mean we shouldn’t react with outrage at truly outrageous, dangerous developments, like the suggestion of a Muslim registry or Trump’s refusal to give access to the press. Trump has already shown himself to be perhaps more outrageous than any President in American history. However, our barometers for when an opinion or a behavior should elicit outrage is too sensitive. This is a democracy, as we need to give each other space to disagree, for parties to promote their own policies. We have a tendency to think our own causes are the most important (and I do as well, with free speech, on a meta level), but political polarization is leading to a myopic focus on one’s own causes to the exclusion of other interests.
The unfortunate result of increasing political polarization is the appointment of Stephen Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, as Trump’s chief strategist. Breitbart is not the solution to a media that has been captured by the left, but a vicious contribution to the problem of simplistic, politicized thinking. Breitbart, instead of responsibly depicting the news from a nuanced, conservative perspective, is a bastion of hateful diatribes. Breitbart is part of the reason we are seeing anti-Semitic letters directed at Harvard Law professors, “Make America White Again” vandalism, and violence committed against black children and Muslim Uber passengers. That is why I, as a moderate sympathetic to claims about liberal bubbles, have signed the petition for lawyers against the appointment of Steve Bannon. Although we must pick our battles, and I will not confirm the Republican persecution complex by opposing everything Trump does, this is a battle worth fighting.
Trump has a chance to moderate his hateful, outrageous campaign rhetoric. I will be ever vigilant against any attempts to obviously violate the Constitution, be it in the form of a Muslim registry or business deals that violate the Emoluments Clause. I am especially concerned with his lack of engagement with the media and his ability to inspire post-truth politics. But I am aware that no one holds a monopoly on the truth, and when the fact-tellers are of predominantly one perspective, many will distrust the facts. The solution depends upon us all to be the better person before our enemy does, to motivate our enemies to return to principle.
I hope we hear from more moderates. When the loudest views are the most extreme, when we treat the other side with little charity or grace, our political climate gets uglier. Condemn the hateful rhetoric, ostracize the extremists who ignore facts on both sides, but allow for wide latitude in those developing their views. Give democracy a chance to work. Hillary won the popular vote, and I hope Trump respects that. But Trump won the electoral college, and we all need to be more principled about the system or none of us will benefit from it. I believe in fighting for what is important, but we have lost some perspective on when to fight, how to fight, and who the enemy is.
As always, I welcome (and relish) disagreement.
Edit: This is all assuming the electors do not decide to elect Hillary Clinton anyway- which I think would be a legitimate choice just based on the popular vote differential and Trump’s behavior pre-election.