I was glued to the T.V. on election day and for days afterward. I flipped between channels, absorbing election results, minute by minute, county by county. I, along with many other Americans, watched percentages rise and fall as same day ballots and mail-in ballots were counted.
My throat tightened and tears of joy slipped down my cheek as Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President-elect, spoke to the gathered crowds. I felt my heart fill as President-elect Joe Biden spoke of an America working together and giving each other a chance. This is the America I know and love.
I know I am not alone. Friends old and new reached out and shared their relief and joy with me.
At the same time, there are plenty of others — including family members, colleagues, and friends — who aren’t relieved by the results.
Almost as many people voted for a second term for Donald Trump as voted for Joe Biden. As the political parties have grown increasingly distinct, and bipartisanship seems increasingly out of reach, these are not small differences. While about half the country held its breath for the last four years, the other half of the people felt heard, vindicated, and represented. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
Vindication aside, can these two Americas come back together again? Can we have a common vision even if we don’t share common realities? Can trust, even understanding, in each other be restored?
In order to rebuild trust, we would actually have to do better by each other. We would need a better politics that serves the people, not party bosses or special interest groups or big-dollar donors.
If we’re going to have a better politics, we would need a shared morality. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Morality matters more than we commonly acknowledge. It’s all we have left to bind us into shared responsibility for the common good. Morality is our oldest and most powerful resource for turning disconnected ‘I’s’ into a collective ‘we.’” Right now, though, we use morality to shore up an “us versus them” mentality, with each side claiming the higher ground. Rabbi Sacks envisions a morality that “turns selfish genes into selfless people, egoists into altruists, and self-interested striving into empathy, sympathy, and compassion for others.” That’s something perhaps all Americans could get behind.
If we’re going to have a shared morality, we would need to see each other as worthy, beloved human beings, and become willing to understand each other’s grievances, hopes, and dreams. That means we would need to stop looking for scapegoats, and actually deal with our problems. America’s problem isn’t immigrants, people of other religions, ethnicities, or cultures, or even people of another political persuasion. It’s that we have become disconnected from each other and lost our common vision.
Americans are a creative lot. Guided by wisdom of the ages, we can figure this out. First, we must rise above fear, let go of judgment, and be willing to do the work of rebuilding a country that works for everyone.
To move us in that direction, I am hosting a series of post-election debriefs called “Democracy, Faith and the Common Good.” This is part of the Uncomfortable Conversations series begun earlier this year. The series starts on November 10th with guests that include Republican Jim Petro, former Ohio State’s Attorney General, and Nancy Petro, who co-wrote False Justice — Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent, and who have been deeply involved with The Innocence Project. On Wednesday, November 11, guests include Rev. Terrance D. Carroll, the 54th Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, now the Colorado State Director of UniteAmerica; and Rev. Dr. Val Jackson, who founded Good [email protected] Cameron. On Thursday, November 12, guests include Rev. Terrell McTyer, author of Faithful Innovation and Minister of New Church Strategies for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada and Rev. Burry Bessee, mother-in-law of a defeated senator, who has successfully navigated deep divides in her family, congregation and community. Learn more here.