I voted today. And while I was inside the polling booth, an altercation broke out in the parking lot. Two women yelled at each other, and the police came. After I finished, I had to wait by my car for a while because the cops had parked me in.
This election season has been awful. We all know it. It’s been a long time coming, and we’re all to blame.
I grew up hearing my parents and friends speak about political opponents in terms of disgust. I learned to do the same from them. I’ve spent most of this election season in profound disbelief, watching a historically divisive campaign turn darker and more bitter, with no end in sight.
I’ve watched people I love make moral compromises I can’t fathom. And I’m sure they look at me with the same disbelief, the same incredulity.
The other day, I thought about putting forward a simple suggestion: that we all write down a list of deal-breakers—things for which we would never excuse a candidate should that person do or say those things—because I firmly believe that many of us are casting ballots today in a state of cognitive dissonance. We’ve found ways to justify decisions which, not too long ago, when it hadn’t quite reached this point, we never would have countenanced.
But the thing is, for most of us, our current political choices have already crossed those lines.
I did not vote for either of the main party candidates today. And I’m frustrated and discouraged by the many people who tell me that my choice has advanced the political agendas of both the parties I did not support. But I made my decision because I’m tired of compromise. I’m tired of giving a mandate to people I don’t trust. And I’m sick of being told who I have to vote for, or else.
I recognize I haven’t been innocent in all this. I get angry. A lot. I’ve raged in the quiet of my room and in the privacy of my car. I’ve argued passionately with friends, shared memes on Facebook, taken part in the general outrage. And it’s been a real struggle to remember who I’m speaking to at times.
Which scares me, because I’ve been speaking to friends, loved ones, colleagues, acquaintances. I’ve felt my feelings for these people shift from warm to cold at a single phrase, a single share or like. I’ve forgotten they were friends, loved ones, colleagues, acquaintances in a moment, and seen them suddenly as the enemy. It’s dehumanizing, and it’s frightening. And I do it.
No matter the result of today, nothing will be better in this country. The discord is a symptom of the way in which we’ve neglected each other’s humanity for too long. This anger is here for a reason, and those reasons aren’t going away. If we’re going to fix them, we need to talk to each other, work with each other, and stop debasing those we disagree with because it feels good to ride on a moral high horse.
So this isn’t a plea to vote for one candidate or another, or even to vote at all. Today, I’m asking you to do something much simpler: be decent to each other.
In my polling booth this morning, I felt a rush of genuine fear. It’s something I never expected to feel in my country. And while the cause proved minor, the effects linger, unnerving, disquieting.
We may believe that we’ve hit a nadir, that we can’t possibly get any lower than we are right now. But things can get a lot worse. Go read some history books if you disbelieve me.
We need to find a way to turn things around. It won’t happen with ultimatums. It won’t happen with demonizing, ranting tirades. It won’t happen with mockery and scorn.
While waiting for the police to clear, I fell into conversation with the man parked next to me. We asked each other what had happened, shared a few moments of disbelief, commiserated on the state of our country. And then the cars shifted, and we wished each other a good day, and left. We didn’t say who we voted for. We could have been on completely opposite sides of a political divide. But we didn’t ask, so all we had was another person to remember, a human being with worries and fears and beliefs.
Anger stems from a source. And when we feel it rise in our own hearts, we need to think about where it comes from in the hearts of others. We need to to treat each other with respect. And even if we can’t love each other all at once, we can treat each other like people.
So please. Be kind to each other. Be decent to each other. We need it today, we need it tomorrow, and we will need it for years to come. Please.