Our 2020 national, state, and local election voting is now complete pending required certifications and confirmation through established electoral processes. The peaceful transfer of power after each election is a longstanding hallmark of our democracy. All candidates and office holders agree to respect the voice of the people exercised through their ballots. This should matter even more than usual in an election year when so many Americans courageously braved Covid-19 exposure to exercise their sacred right to vote. However, at the Presidential level, the current White House incumbent continues to petulantly deny the election’s outcome, whipping up an unfounded and unsubstantiated conspiratorial argument that the Presidency is being stolen from him through widespread voter fraud. It’s a supposition which, by the way, flies in the face of overwhelming factual evidence that this election was amongst the fairest and freest in our country’s history. But it’s not simply a matter of Donald Trump’s stubborn intransigence. The President’s resistant and combative behavior in blocking an orderly transfer of power actually hinders the continuity of our federal government at a time when our ever-worsening Coronavirus pandemic places tens of thousands of additional American lives in grave danger.
Our Wounds are Experiential
In my long lifetime, I have never witnessed our country being more untethered, divided, and angry than it is now. As a 2020 campaign volunteer for Biden-Harris (my first campaign involvement of any kind in many decades), I made canvassing phone calls; worked as a poll greeter for early voting; used my social media platform ‘voice’ in strident, but responsible, ways; and participated in a number of peaceful and respectful sign-waving events for Biden-Harris along city streets. While acting as a campaign volunteer, I fully anticipated the equivalent of a ‘thumbs down’ from many who opposed my Presidential ticket of choice. Some degree of push back was to be expected, of course. For when you choose to put yourself in the public space, you have to grow some ‘tough skin’– especially in this time of heightened partisanship. But here’s just a sample of what I unexpectedly and directly witnessed first-hand as a Biden-Harris volunteer from any number of those who opposed our good faith candidate advocacy. In the process of our volunteering:
- We received an avalanche of angry Middle Fingers pointed at us from passing cars
- We were accused of being Communists and Socialists
- We were called ‘Pedophile Lovers’
- We were told to ‘Get the F**k out of Their Country’
- We were asked what it feels like to be ‘Mentally Retarded’
- We were told that we were probably ‘Going to Burn Down Some Cities’ after our Events
- We were subjected to ongoing cascades of ‘F**k Biden’
- We were accused of being evil ‘Baby Murderers’
- We witnessed our female volunteers being verbally called ‘Dumb, Ugly Bitches’
By the way, these assaults to the senses came not just from adults. They spewed, as well, from the mouths of children as young as 13 or 14 years old as these kids remained parked near us on their bikes. Now, I’m certainly not naïve about the reality of taking sides in a political campaign. Passions and emotions can run high, and I don’t take any of it personally. Further, I’m sure there were any number of disparaging ‘epithets’ leveled by Democrats, more generally, against the Trump candidacy out on the campaign trail somewhere in the United States. However, in my personal 2020 experience, I found the far-too-frequent, viscerally hateful response to our constructive volunteer advocacy discouraging and sometimes downright frightening.
The Answer Should Be Straightforward… But it’s Not
I continue to deeply ponder what lies beneath our divisive, hate-filled woundedness as a nation surrounding the 2020 election. It’s something that goes deeper than simple differences of opinion on matters of public policy. It’s far more existential than a mere disagreement on issues. Instead, it’s an active tearing of the fiber of our connected identity as Americans. It’s breaking apart families, friendships, neighborhoods, places of worship, and entire communities. It’s fracturing longstanding relationships, perhaps never to be knitted back together again. Much has been written about this phenomenon, and scholars will continue to study it for years to come. One of the best pieces I’ve read in this regard is a recent one by Michael Gerson of the Washington Post. In his article, Gerson speaks to the serious challenges that we face in repairing our divided nation. And he offers his readers this consideration:
“It is important to the cohesion of our society that people keep a portion of their deepest selves off limits to politics entirely — the place where kindness, decency and hospitality dwell. Any political belief (really, any belief) that causes us to refuse friendship or fellowship to nonbelievers is wrong and corrosive, no matter how noble or necessary it may seem.
Americans need to defend a space in their lives where cable news does not reach, where social media does not incite, and where the basic, natural tendency is to treat other people like human beings. This offers not just the prospect of greater tolerance, but the hope of healing.”
It’s About Identity and Power
I wholeheartedly agree with Gerson’s view on this matter. Following his advice seems so straightforward. It makes perfect sense. Yet too many of us are unable or unwilling to pursue it. Something much, much deeper is going on. We remain fully encased in our respective ‘corners of the ring’ through our ongoing behaviors. For example, we often abandon logic, facts, and sober consideration of issues. And replace these with blind affiliation, raw emotion, change resistance, and a felt need to reject any reality that doesn’t fit neatly into our already existing worldviews. Far too frequently as well, we internalize opinions, values, or beliefs external to us. We enmesh and subsume our very identities in favor of the ideologies and personas of others– thereby emptying our own souls, only to fill them up with someone else’s. When we substitute something (or someone) else for our own individual identities, we become much less human in the process. And we collectively devolve as a species.
Willingly subsuming our identities to things external to us is a major problem. But there’s much more layered atop this. Far too often, we also feel it necessary to append Power to our externally defined selves. When we do this, a number of harmful things result. Our need to seize or preserve power reduces us to our basest instincts. It requires our aggressive dominance over others in the service of these primal instincts. Further, we tend to view any gains that others make as necessarily having been achieved at our own expense. It, therefore, precludes our seeking collaboration and cooperation with anyone outside our narrowly defined boundaries. It also reduces the inherent complexity of our environment to an ‘us versus them’ mentality. Additionally, it provides us with a convenient excuse for our own personal shortcomings or failures. For those inadequacies must be the result of the ‘other guys’ who are holding us back. It’s their fault, of course. Which, in turn, fosters a ‘grievance-based’ worldview. But here’s the most damaging aspect of all. Dominance over others overrides our ability to see our opponents as even human. We turn disagreement into a devolutionary process of demonization. Life becomes largely a matter of survival. And we survive only by dominating others.
Make no mistake here. I’m not talking about the normal rough and tumble of everyday competition between people or groups. That’s because competition necessarily includes an openness to sportsmanship, cooperation, collaboration, and compassion along the way. This is clearly not happening these days. We’re dealing not with a competitive spirit, but with a dangerous internalized need to dominate others. One in which our very identities are firmly grounded in an unhealthy exercise of power. When we’re afflicted with this condition, winning turns quickly into self-righteousness. Into arrogance. And into the need to debilitate or utterly destroy our adversaries. Alternatively, when we’re stuck in a dominance-oriented worldview, losing leads to fear, resentment, and a relentless drive to grab power back. Human life is reduced to a matter of winners and losers. It’s all quite binary. We’re either acting on someone or being unfairly acted upon by another.
Finding Another Way
In the face of this, it’s difficult to feel hopeful about our country’s future right now. As a Biden-Harris supporter, I’m clearly relieved by the 2020 election’s outcome, and I sincerely believe that it moves us in a much preferable direction going forward. That said, I’m utterly exhausted by the process of it all. And I’m not feeling joyful or jubilant at the moment. Nor do I feel particularly triumphant. I don’t feel newly powerful, dominant, or vindicated. And I don’t believe that the Democratic Party actually seized anything back. Instead, I’m quite frightened about our country’s protracted, hateful, and thoroughly self-destructive internal divisions. Diagnosing the existence of these divisions is admittedly far easier than actually remedying the situation. But we have to try. So, how do we come together, post-election, to solve common problems? How do we begin talking with each other in more civil ways? How do we listen more deeply to other people? Empathize with greater regularity? And try to understand the legitimate feelings of those whom we hold in opposition to us?
There is no one, single, or all-encompassing answer here. If it were simple and easy, we’d be quite proficient at it by now. But I earnestly believe that the solution starts with a Human Choice. It begins with our affirmative decision to stop consciously (or unconsciously) appending any and all outside ‘identities’ that are imposed upon or blindly adopted by us– be they political, economic, cultural, religious, or philosophical. In other words, we need to differentiate ourselves far more completely from all things external to us. And become who we were always meant to be on the inside. As I’ve said many times before in my articles, the state of human ‘being’ always starts from the inside out, not the other way around.
Next, the solution requires our sustained commitment to reclaim our shared ‘spiritual’ humanity, even over the objections of those in our current, narrow ‘tribes’ who’ll resist the change in us. In truth, we’re much more alike each other than different from each other. We need a diverse community around us, even when we disagree on some things. Lastly, the solution involves embracing the one, powerful thing that we have in common. We are all loving (and loved) children of a Universal Creator God. This identity is already ‘baked’ into us at birth through God. It’s only when we carelessly discard this birthright that we lose it. Sadly enough, too many of us have done just that. And we are all the poorer for it. But if we can throw it away, we can also retrieve and re-incorporate it if we simply decide to do so.
Reframing the Discussion Itself
Taking real, sustained action goes two steps further yet. First, we must think about power differently. Power should never be something that we use to dominate others. Instead, real power is the Light and Love that exist deep within our respective hearts. In order to restore our inherent power of light and love, we have to surrender other iterations of power in our lives to every extent possible. We must lay down our weapons and embrace the goodness that actually exists in each of us. Now, to be clear, renouncing harmful notions of power doesn’t require us to stop working on things that we passionately believe in. It doesn’t preclude our having principled disagreements with others over heart-felt issues. Nor does it mean that we won’t periodically compete to secure success in the causes that we care about. What it does mean, however, is that doing our best (on our own or in constructive partnership with others) to influence favorable outcomes has to be enough for us. With this accomplished, we must step back– knowing that our ideas will eventually carry the day if they’re good enough. In turn, we must resist the urge to overpower others in order to win at any cost. Scorched-earth victories are always empty, hollow ones.
Second, we have to think about ourselves differently– especially as it entails the things that we pursue or believe in. Purposes, values, and causes are wonderful and energizing components of living our respective lives. At times, we may feel ‘called’ by things bigger than ourselves. It’s good to listen to these things and to answer affirmatively with our time, engagement, commitment, and focused talents. But we must remember this. We are never our causes or even the sum total of these causes. No. We are human beings first and foremost. When we realize this, we can give our varied causes to a higher cause: The Living God. A God who knows that Love is the only transformational thing that really matters in the end. The arch of anything that is meaningful, redeemable, and everlasting in our universe must ultimately bend toward love. Everything that we do is ultimately measured by a standard of love.
In the end, love clearly matters. But it’s not simply a standard to measure our progress by as humanity. It’s also an inherently powerful ‘force’ that never divides or separates us under any circumstances. In fact, it’s the one and only thing that actually sustains us as a human family. The one and only thing that holds us together. In turn, the one and only thing that can ever Bind our Wounds in these divisive times. As the upcoming Holidays approach, I’m reminded that God’s love is always available to us and for us to share more fully. There’s hope in that, for sure. While the prospect of our actually embracing this love appears quite remote at the moment, the mere possibility of it has to mean something. If nothing else, its continued possibility represents a small start. It encompasses a legitimate opportunity to begin anew. Furthermore, it’s something we can build upon in the future, whatever our political party affiliation. Together in the spirit of national reconciliation. Now, that’s undeniably powerful. And we don’t need an election to embark on it either.