Gary Horton | Let’s Choose Our Better American Selves

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This past week’s Economist magazine features a cover titled, “America’s Ugly Election – How bad could it get?” Reading through the article, the answer is, “very bad” – as most of us already know.

Tensions are already very high and are rising higher, with the president himself fear mongering to his mesmerized base. 

Forget the imaginary “antifa” and unarmed Black Lives Matter. Now, we’ve got real “militias” dressed out in camo garb, shoulders slung macho with real mass murder weapons parading around in pseudo-military trucks sporting both American and Trump flags – (convinced they’re one and the same). 

This past week we’ve seen the tragedy of a misguided 17-year-old killing two protesters while condemning himself to an almost certain life sentence for murder. 

More and more, we see street fights, gangs against gangs, “militias” thinking they’re the “only true patriots defending freedom” — and there’s still eight weeks until Nov. 3.

And as tense, exaggerated and violent as our street scene has been, our political discourse as emotionally charged. Some of this has been featured right here, on The Signal’s opinion pages. Epithets, mischaracterizations, name calling, absolutism, superlative non-reasoning, and general writing-as-abuse has replaced debate over policy and ideas. And The Signal is tame. Go to social media, Fox News, MSNBC – and hysteria reigns and wins the day. 

And seemingly every day, Donald Trump piles on even more vitriol as fuel for scorched-earth politicking.

Indeed, this is the most important election of our lifetimes and indeed, this is a precarious moment for America. We can be certain everything lies in the balance when the president himself regularly and directly undermines the integrity of the election process itself. Trump says the election is “rigged” – a handy trap door for him should he lose. 

He’s also said there’s no guarantee he’ll honor the outcome of such a rigged electoral process. “We’ll see,” he said in a press conference. By Trump’s own terms, he’s put our democracy at stake and we’re all in the middle of this battle.

The Economist is rightly aghast. America is supposed to be the leading democracy in the world. And our own president is telling America and the world the election isn’t dependable and he may not honor the result. Far from a leading democracy, the world sees us sliding into a Putin-styled pseudo-democracy/kleptocracy. And our president acts the strong man part, urging his pro-Trump militias onto the streets. These gunplay fetishists are “patriots,” he says.

There’s no easy way out of this for America, regardless of political party and regardless of win or lose. The stakes have been raised as “do or die” for each side… 

Should the election be go for Joe Biden and be close, we’ll see endless lawsuits delaying final determination akin to Bush vs. Gore, but worse — potentially with street violence. Should Trump win, he’ll almost certainly do so while losing the popular vote. 

In either case, one side will accuse the other of cheating and further division will further weaken our nation. About the only calm way out is an uncontestable and massive Biden win, with such a delegate count that makes litigating the results futile and claiming “rigged” laughable. But this result is by no means certain.

In this mash-up, Americans must to come to our senses and restore civility and respect and re-establish support for our electoral process. 

Gerrymandering aside, we generally manage fair elections and we honor the results. Locally, we work with Republicans and Democrats and independents and run a good city and enjoy a reasonable state. We don’t need, and don’t have, militias parading down Valencia Boulevard — and I sure hope we never come to violence and we likely never will. 

But nationally, oh, this is something much different. 

We’ve got to get back to Americans supporting Americans, regardless of party, race, economic status. We’ve got to reclaim civility and respect at our national level.

Yes, we’ve got to campaign like our nation, lives and future depend on it. We’ve got to march, protest, plead, persuade like our nation, lives and future depend on it. But we can’t fight or commit violence like it does. 

We’re not there yet. This is no “revolution” – it is an election. 

When this is all over, we will still have to live with ourselves. When it’s over, we’ll still be Americans. And whether your party wins or loses, we’re all going to have to find a way forward. When this is over we will still be neighbors…

More than ever, this isn’t a time for burning bridges, relationships, or anything else. It’s a time for building bridges, because we’re going to have to cross them on Nov. 4.

Our president should respect this civility sentiment, but sadly, he hasn’t led us this way. 

So, it’s up to you and me and all America to lay down the hate and pick up civility. Let’s choose and live our better American selves. 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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