A Call For Introspection & Civil Discourse

by John Hogan
Guest Writer

“I’m very concerned for the future of America.”

This phrase is the type I have been hearing for almost a year and a half now. The citizenry of the United States look at the 2016 presidential election cycle and ask what have we done?

In this climate of dissatisfaction, it is no wonder that the citizens of this country are wondering whether the United States is coming apart. Everywhere people are beginning to wonder if America has reached a proverbial point of no return. Is the United States coming undone, or is this terrified sentiment a natural reaction to something else?

Let us consider Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Both are intolerable to many as presidential candidates, but both are their party’s nominees. Trump relies on outlandish statements and bigoted speech to rally white and low-income voters to his banner. Clinton relies on a diverse base of minorities and old-school Democrats who uphold the argument she is trustworthy, despite overwhelming contrary evidence. Women voters have also flocked to Clinton because she is, after all, the first female presidential nominee from one of the two major parties.

Divisive Language

The fascinating feature about both nominees is that they are so divisive in their language. Trump calls Mexicans rapists and mocks any person who disagrees with him. He has insinuated that Senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the JFK assassination. These are ludicrous accusations. Clinton called Trump supporters “deplorables." That is a gross oversimplification. Both candidates use language that is divisive. While Clinton’s words are more eloquent and friendlier to millennials’ ears, she is equally as caustic as Donald Trump. This is remarkable; both candidates are using their words to unleash attacks on whole groups instead of trying to get their vote. Do not get caught up in defending one candidate, they’re both divisive.

I believe this election creates so much unease within the United States because this election exposes an issue in "we the people." Columnist Lee Drutman has some terrifying statistics to expose American disunity: 82 percent of House races in 2014 were wins of 15 percentage points or more. This means one candidate never had a chance in 82 percent of all House of Representatives races! In 2014, only six of 34 Senate seats were seats either party could win. The heartland of the nation and the south are Republican strongholds, while Democrats hold the Northeast, and East and West coasts. Only states like Virginia, Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and my own, Ohio, truly vote differently every election cycle. In fact, it will be these six states that will decide who the next president is in 2016. This is our divided nation.

This two-nation argument goes even deeper when talking about the political views of others. I’ve heard too many people say over and over “such-and-such is racist…” or “so-and-so is too liberal…” Consider the terms we use when we describe the other political party. We call Republicans “muppets” or “Tea-partiers” while we call Democrats “feminazis” or “communists."

Why are we so hateful in our language toward people with different viewpoints?

We’ve done the one thing that real bigots of every era have done to their ideological opponents; we’ve dehumanized them. Our nation has gone from one that was able to express ideas freely and with respect to a nation that riots and becomes easily outraged every time someone with an opposing political viewpoint enters the room. We’ve chosen name-calling and ideologically approved buzzwords in order to avoid real debate and a real chance to exchange ideas.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton aren’t monsters that don’t know how to act, we are.

I was so disturbed by the first presidential debate that I left the dorm lobby infuriated. I wasn’t mad because I hated one candidate and liked the other. I was furious because I’d heard all this before. The debate on TV was exactly like a debate played out in the cafeteria or dorm room all around Rochester. The debate also occurs in the rest of America. These two people aren’t out of touch with America; instead, they’re too in touch with our rage toward the other side. They’re giving us exactly what we want. Like children, they’re imitating our hateful speech for our vote.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, tells a great story about a man with a log in his eye trying to get the speck out of another man’s eye. It is eerie how accurate that is to this election cycle.

We’re the monsters in this whole process, but we can’t see we’re the real monsters. We only have ourselves to blame.

So, is the nation falling apart because of the 2016 election? No. No one person can ruin everything because our government is designed to block this kind of ideological extremism. Consider this Lincoln quote, “America will never be destroyed from the outside… it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Our own hatred for one another is what’s tearing us apart, not Trump or Clinton. We’ve shut our ears and have refused to listen to what other people have to say. It’s surprising how quickly it has happened. Both my grandparents are of opposing political parties and it gets crazy at election time. Still, we acknowledge we’re all welcome to discuss what America means and our vision of government. When we cease to see the opposing political ideology as evil and/or inhuman then we will move past candidates like Trump and Clinton.

America isn’t collapsing around us because of this election. We wonder because we’re secretly worried about how we treat one another when we disagree.

Enter Into Legitimate Dialogue

How do we fix it? It’s not an easy solution, but we must enter into legitimate dialogue with one another. We must be willing to agree on issues and disagree on others in a rational manor. The answer is simple in theory but difficult in practice, but this solution is the only one that will save us from ourselves.