CAMDEN, S.C. – Thank God that’s over – even if it’s (maybe) not quite.
Never during my lifetime have I been so stressed over a presidential election. I know I’m not alone because everyone I’ve spoken to recently has said the same. Some people left their hometowns or cities for the woods. Some decided now would be a good time to leave the country. I’ve often wished I could join them.
Not since the Civil War has our country been so divided – a feeling exacerbated by campaigns that stressed differences rather than common causes. In my small town, I don’t recall ever seeing so many political signs standing sentry on front lawns and along sidewalks. Maybe it’s my imagination, but the lawn wars felt more competitive than usual, more like middle fingers to political foes than friendly reminders to vote for this man or that woman.
There’s been reason enough for the change in temperature. Donald Trump’s 2016 election was a scalpel to the nation’s heart. Half the country went blind with rage while the other half accepted ugliness as the coin of the realm. It didn’t help that Trump continuously baited the fields of our worst instincts.
Making the 2020 campaign all the more taxing, physically and psychologically, was its inextricable connectedness to COVID-19. Both were plagues upon the nation, if one decidedly more deadly. To hear Trump forswear the virus as nothing much to worry about while infections and deaths continued to climb was a textbook illustration of cognitive dissonance – the perfect metaphor for an administration rooted in its own separate reality.
Except in wartime, life and death don’t usually play such prominent roles in our politics. But waiting in line to vote Monday, surrounded by fellow-masked citizens, brought home that the drama in which we’re all engaged is not theater. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. I looked in front and back of me and wondered who among us was asymptomatic. Which of us might end up in the hospital in the next few weeks or months?
It’s a morbid thought but not an unrealistic one. Here in Camden, Election Day was a glorious, blue-sky reminder of the gift of life, as well as the creation of our democratic republic. It seems unjust that though we celebrate the end of the political season, the seasonal flu and COVID-19 are around the corner. So, we will get (or have gotten) our flu shots, wear (or keep wearing) our masks and try to make the best of social distancing. I wonder if our physical health might improve once our minds are allowed to detox.
Even with the election over, we still have almost 80 days until Inauguration Day. Who knows what spoils or trickery await? Doubtless, resentments and contempt will linger among some on the losing side. It would be nice if the winning side would treat others as they would wish to be treated were the outcome otherwise. Even if such wishes were to come true, the path forward likely will be bumpy with legal challenges and charges of corruption, and various other constructs designed to explain away defeat or justify further delays in closing the deal.
People eager for a return to regular order will have little patience for reruns. There’s a tolerance threshold for political bickering – and we’re long past it.
As we wait for 2021 and a fresh start, we have work to do. There’s scaffolding to erect, boarded-up store windows to liberate and fences to mend. It will be a relief to be able to speak to friends and neighbors again without fear of offending.
We also have some soul-searching to do. Lame ducks aren’t necessarily lazy, and a little self-scrutiny and reflection wouldn’t be time wasted. What have we learned from all of this? One possibility: We don’t need an Election Day. We did just fine voting, amid the virus, over a length of time and with mail-in ballots, with far less stress and strain.
Most of us have probably also learned while waiting in line to vote that we are not enemies. We don’t hate each other. We’re not mad at each other. I doubt there were many – or any – who weren’t proud to be standing in his or her designated space, 6 feet away from another person – whose eyes, like one’s own, peered over a mask that was intended to protect the other.
That sounds like the old America to me. Let’s stop the shouting and keep it anew.
– Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.