There is Room for Dissent: Election Day 2016

By the end of today, an estimated 140 million Americans, over 40% of our population, will have cast their vote for the 45th President of the United States. Whether your side wins or loses, tens of millions of people will have voted for someone you voted against. Many of these folks will be people you care about, family members, friends, coworkers, anyone. You may disagree with them on who should be President and why, but tomorrow morning you’ll both get out of bed and continue to live your lives in the country you’ll continue to share. One side wins, the other loses, we all move forward together whether we like the result or not, which is why I’m writing this.

You probably have your reasons for voting however you’ll vote today. I hope you do, informed voting is the least your country asks of you. You’ve had the greater part of a year to make this decision, and most of you probably made it long before you even knew who the candidates would be. You’ve considered who to vote for and convinced yourself that person is the best one of our current candidates to lead this country forward. You may or may not be comfortable with this decision, but you have your reasons. What you should make yourself comfortable with, though, is that the other side has their reasons too.

If this election has shown us anything, it’s that both sides are capable of treating each other with contempt, disrespect, and an utter lack of interest in what the other has to say. This has been a particularly boorish, nasty election cycle. It brought out the worst kinds of vitriol and disgust in both sides. This rise in partisan fighting has brought about a decline in civility and the free flow of ideas. Instead of hearing and considering differing opinions, we unfollow those we disagree with and de-friend “that nut job from high school” who can’t wait to vote for the other candidate. What we’re left with are Facebook feeds and internet bookmark lists echoing only our own ideas. We’ve written off any opposing voice as “a soft, PC loser” or “some uneducated bigot.” We’ve mocked and demonized those who don’t think or vote the way we do. We learn nothing from behavior like this. When you get your news exclusively from Gawker Media and Bill Maher on one side or Breitbart and Rush Limbaugh on the other, you are moving backwards.

There is room for dissent. America was built on it. The history of this country is a two and a half-century longitudinal study of what happens when you throw millions upon millions of immigrants into a capitalist system on a physically massive piece of land and make them figure it out for themselves. There are huge swaths of this country that don’t remotely resemble other huge swaths of this country physically nor demographically. Since the popular vote first became recorded in 1824, only four Presidents have received 60% or more of the popular vote, and none reached 62%. Think about that. You may think America is irredeemably divided now, but it’s always been that way. Even when women and minorities weren’t allowed to vote and we had far fewer states and citizens, we still couldn’t get more than three in five people in this country to vote for the same person. The very concept of America means different things to each one of us, and it always has. 

Even with all that, we still became the country we are today. Somehow, nearly 250 years into vehemently disagreeing on something as basic and necessary as choosing a leader, we became a country that even the angriest, least content of us are proud of. If you had to pick any time to live in any place to have an opportunity to live a good life, you would most likely pick the United States in the 21st century. Dissent did not stop us, it made us better.

I ask you, no matter which side you’re on, to make yourself open to the other side. They have their reasons. You have yours. Think about your life, your family, where you’ve lived, what you’ve done with your time on Earth, and how it all made you think the way you do. Then do the same for someone on the other side, someone who didn’t grow up the way you did, didn’t go to the same schools or work in the same field or come from the same part of the country (or maybe even the same country at all). Talk to them about it. Don’t write off their ideas, embrace them. Ask them why they think the way they do, and don’t turn it into an argument. You don’t have to leave with an agreement, but you should try to leave with an understanding. Learn from each other and, most importantly, be civil. No matter which side you’re on, being intransigent will hurt you more than it will help.

Be good to each other. We’re in this together, whether we think so or not.