America's challenge: Will our nation unite or crumble?
By the time many readers pick up this newspaper, the 2020 election will have already taken place. And thank goodness. 2020 has been exhausting enough, with the norm-shattering pandemic, the closures and cancelations robbing us of cherished events and celebrations. Add to the mess of 2020 this unprecedented election season, one that has divided our country like none other in modern times. We're wrenched tight.
It has been said and written repeatedly, forcefully, with growing possibility, that the greatest threat to America, to the United States, will not come from Russia or China. It's ourselves.
American politics has long been a tough game, one not for the thin-skinned. Truth has been in the ear of the beholder, and exaggerations for one candidate and against another an integral part of campaigns since Thomas Jefferson and John Adams squared off to become president No. 2 220-some years ago.
American politics in the 21st century, however, is a far more shadowy animal, thanks largely to the times we live in, where the overarching presence of the internet and proliferation of social media have expanded to become dominant forces. The result of that flood of "information?" The U.S. resembles a 1970s banana republic more and more each day. Truth and respect, on the campaign trail and elsewhere, have been displaced by dishonesty and intimidation. In true banana republic form, there is a real concern about violence in the streets post-election.
We are at a crossroads in this nation. Our grand experiment, at its core, is if this country based on individual freedom, comprised of a broad mix of people, cultures and mindsets, tasked with working/thriving together, can remain unified. Can Americans, essentially, handle all that freedom, or will our worst natures be allowed to fracture our bond and destroy us from within?
As these currents of today toss our nation's ship violently back and forth, the question is huge: What are we going to be? What are we going to allow ourselves to become? Can we somehow return to a center-point for our national discourse?
To do so, the first step would be to recognize and reject fringe elements tearing us apart, usually anonymously. Republican leaders must be given the freedom to move left without being labelled as a RINO, (Republican In Name Only) and Democrats need to be able to move right without being shamed by hard-line progressives. And those who are neither Republican nor Democrat need to be heard – maybe now more than ever. We've lost the realization that the vast majority of both parties want what's best for the nation, want the Constitution upheld and our economy to be strong. It's vital that we get it back.
Our presidential elections showcase our divide. It is simply not the American way to have a fully beloved leader, at least not the ballot box. Even Franklin Roosevelt, who beat the Depression, was winning World War II and was setting us up to be the world's major superpower, only won the popular vote in 1944 by less than 8%. What's a president have to do to earn a landslide?Since 1960, most our elections have been relatively tight as far as the popular vote. Kennedy beat Nixon by less than 1%; Carter beat Ford by just over 2%. There have only be three real blowouts in the last 60 years, all by incumbents staying in office — LBJ over Goldwater in '64 by 22.6 %, Nixon over McGovern in '72 by 23.2%, and Reagan over Mondale in '84 by 18.2%.
However, since 2000, only once (Obama's 7.27% win in 2008) was the difference in the popular vote more than 4%. The vote split this century is so tight that twice the person elected by the Electoral College famously lost the popular vote, George W. Bush in 2000 and Trump in 2016.
It's no coincidence that this divided era comes during the digital age, the proliferation of affirmation media, talk radio and the explosion of social media.
This nation is still waiting for a leader who can unite us across party lines. The next one we have, if we ever do, will be the first in the 21st century. The last one to do that by any real percentage was Reagan — pre-internet, pre-social media.
But hopefully, Jefferson and Adams can be a lesson for us this Election Day. They had vicious political battles during the nation's early years, but after being bitter political enemies, they eventually became strong friends, both famously dying on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of Independence Day. They both left this world thinking the young nation would be in good hands because the other still existed on its soil.
Certainly the nation, and our world, have come a long ways since presidents 2 and 3. But part of their greatness was that they came to recognize the patriotism in each other, the understanding that our differences and varied viewpoints, though often messy and difficult, was also our greatest asset.
One of our challenges post 2020 is to begin to reject the noise from the fringes that work to divide us — much of it outright false or exaggerated — and regain a center core focused not on advancing an agenda or mindset, not on destroying those with different ideals and dreams, but on the common good and a more unified 21st century.
The biggest challenge for the United States, as those historians often remind us, is to remain united, to not crumble from within. Will we do it? Sadly, that question, as Election Day 2020 dawns, cannot be confidently answered.
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