It is a curious time in the political and cultural landscape of the nation. I hear more and more people calling for unity and for people to come together for our collective sake, and yet the country seems more deeply divided than ever. Is this how things are going to be from here on out? The political pendulum has always swung back and forth between more conservative and more liberal approaches to government, but everything just feels more, I don’t know, vicious these days.
Democrats enjoyed a full eight years of Obama as President, and during his first two years Democrats also controlled both houses of Congress. Now the tables have turned. For better or for worse, that’s how the system tends to work. Enough people get fed up with one approach to rise up and elect a different approach. Trump honed in on a significant segment of American society that didn’t feel like its voice and viewpoints were being heard. He appealed to that segment and won the election fair and square by the accepted system and the way it works. I do not believe Russia’s hacking had a significant impact on the outcome. And I’m not interested in demonizing Trump or Clinton. They are both deeply flawed in various ways. Many liberals were willing to live with Clinton’s flaws, and many conservatives are willing to live with Trump’s flaws.
Trump did not win the popular vote, but that’s part of the way the system works. Although Trump’s supporters are technically the minority (at least by vote count), they get to have their proverbial day in court. For all the people who seem to think this is somehow unacceptable, the alternative is working to change the system if they think the system is truly flawed. I’m not yet convinced the system is so flawed that it needs to be changed. The things I see that are most in need of change are people’s attitudes – too many people seem to be losing their ability to agree to disagree within a framework of mutual respect that still allows the work of the nation to move forward.
Getting back to those people who say it’s time to come together as a nation. I do think it’s fair to say this: The people who call the loudest for unity are the ones holding more of the political power. Back in 2008 when a tide of liberalism swept into power and conservatives were horrified, who were the ones calling for unity? It was the liberals, of course. Now that a wave of conservatism has rolled in, who is calling for unity? The conservatives!
So let’s be realistic here: No appeals for national unity are going to magically smooth over the deeply held beliefs that define the cultural and political divide. But the system we’ve created can also be held back in very practical ways if that divide results in debilitating political gridlock. Compromise is still needed to move things forward. We still need to step away from our deep differences and find just enough common ground so we can do the things that need to be done.