I was one of those people who, once voting had started, shared the meme of the yard sign reading, “Whoever wins, stay calm” including a quote by Abraham Lincoln which read “We are not enemies, but friends.” However, I know it’s not that simple.
For the most part, the meme was liked, even shared by a few of my friends. But I was a little surprised at the usually very sweet people who did not cozy up to the idea of considering themselves friends with people they consider racists. They were quite content to hold a grudge for the next four years should Donald Trump have won the election.
Many I know sighed with relief when it was finally declared that Trump was defeated by the man the Democratic Party had selected to be their best chance. However, the difference of only 4 million voters, the reality that more than 70 million Americans actually wanted another four years of Trump’s leadership stylings takes some people’s breath away. Beyond those who voted for Donald J. Trump because they genuinely liked his style and want nothing more than to taste the tears of liberal snowflakes, there are a number of other reasons people voted for him as well. So before we dismiss half of America as supporters of the ignorance, heartlessness, narcissism, misogyny and white supremacy our 45th president was most often criticized for, we’ve got to consider how much things have changed since Abraham Lincoln declared us all friends.
While Donald Trump is the latest of 19 Republican presidents, Abraham Lincoln was the first president to be a member of the Republican Party. Founded in 1854 to combat the expansion of slavery, the Republican Party was not initially very popular in the South. Six weeks after Lincoln was elected and the Republican Party took control of the executive branch of the US government in 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union, triggering what would become the Civil War.
They were different times.
In the 160 years since, it would seem that the Republican and Democratic parties have geographically shifted in popularity with the South now having a majority of people that identify as Republicans and people in the North more often identifying as Democrats. Additionally, although most freed slaves were members of the early Republican party, after Democrats started letting people of color come to their conventions in 1924 (yeah, less than a century ago), only 8% of black people voted for the latest Republican presidential candidate.
Nevertheless, neither party actually represents the average American. The sad fact is that, regardless of our incredible diversity and kaleidoscope of ideas for a better world, our political system only offers two rather extreme choices. After two centuries of exaggerating our differences, it boggles my mind that anyone is actually wondering why we’re so divided right now.
The United States of America, a country that prides itself for having as many different kinds of Oreos as it does states, only has two political parties. Regardless of how complex our lives are, how many variants there actually are to consider, how much we value selection, and what we would actually like our government to do, it all has to come down to one of only two choices, each a preselected representative of private organizations. While our actual lives might be extraordinary, our political system is basic, in a bad way.
A lot of Americans don’t vote for candidates. They just vote for their team. Although the tallies show that 70 million Americans voted for Donald Trump, the truth is that many of those voted for the Republican Party, and there are a number of reasons for that too.
Many people are devoted Republicans for the same reason many people are devoted Democrats: that’s the way they were raised. It’s the same reason they’re Presbyterian or fans of the Chicago Bears: that’s what Mom and Dad taught them. Quite a few people don’t give it much more thought than that, and when they go to the booths, they just vote for the people with “R” by their name and think they’ve done their civic duty.
However much research you do in your political activity, to educate yourself, find out about the current issues and candidates, and get involved, there are a lot of people that do very little and care a lot less. Don’t let it get you down. We’ve got a long way to go before we have an actual democracy.
But I digress…
Some people, largely evangelicals, but some others as well, vote for the Republican Party because they are against abortion. For them, it doesn’t matter who’s getting bombed, shot, starved, evicted, or subjugated to undue cruelty, they’ve decided that their job is to fight for the unborn who have no voice. In their minds, Democrats allow abortions to happen and cannot be trusted. A vote for a Democrat is a vote for abortion, and when all is said and done, although it hasn’t actually come up for the entire duration of Biden’s 47 year career, it is the only principle that matters to them.
For a lot of people, Donald Trump helped them make a lot of money, and money can be very forgiving. They’ve been around long enough to realize how much misogyny and racism are inherent in the system, and although Trump has gone quite a bit further to usher it into the spotlight than the more subtle racist presidents of the past, they’re just grateful for the tax breaks and bumps in the market created by his noise.
Also, a lot of people just don’t like Joe Biden. Sure, he’s got a great smile, and for what we paid for it, it had better be, but a lot of mistrust has been cultivated by perfect smiles. While there are many who don’t like Trump for the way that he has historically treated women and minorities, there are many who don’t like Biden for the same reason, and some really don’t like him because he’s been part of “the system” for nearly half a century.
Lastly, some people probably just want to watch it burn. Especially over the last few decades, as the two parties and their supporters have widened the political divide, having realized how lucrative competition can be, some people are beginning to lose faith in the system. Some saw Donald Trump as the igniter of fires who would allow us to rebuild from the ashes left in his wake.
Maybe he will still become that. After all, as incendiary as the last four years have been, there’s no telling what he’ll do in his last two months. But even more than that, perhaps Americans will start realizing how inept our political system has become and open up to ideas on how we can make it better.
Considering how divisive this election proved our system to be, what if we upgraded to a more inclusive way of doing things? Could an innovation like Ranked Choice Voting help us choose better candidates than the lesser of two evils? That this election brought out more voters than any US election in history, and yet 33.2% of Americans still didn’t have enough faith in the system to participate at all should tell us something.
In spite of the limited opportunities we’re currently given to express ourselves politically, may we find the courage to look past the faults in our politics, actually start to have conversations about things that matter, maybe even with people we don’t know yet, and continue the process of becoming a more perfect union, one relationship at a time.