The election of fear

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

As the election season comes to a close, we have an opportunity to come back together as people of faith and as Americans. Sadly, America is dividing itself more and more on political lines – and then those divisions lead to growing echo chambers - where our world views are growing more divergent everyday. In a world of big data, political operatives, and corporate branding, we see political identity emerging in the media we select, and also in what we drink, where we choose to live,  and even what we eat.

This was a unique election, because it wasn’t about competing ideas over the same issue or competing views on the most important issues. Instead, this was an election about people who are afraid. In a few weeks, Christians will begin their advent season, and we will hear the voice of the Angels telling Joseph, Mary, and Shepherds to not be afraid as a part of the Christmas story. The reality this election season, Americans were afraid and the candidates tried to use that fear to get elected.

The fear, an emotional and self-defense response, led this to be an exhausting election. Bernie Sanders tapped into fear Americans surrounding the growing economy for the wealthy, but not the rest of us. Donald Trump tapped into Americans fear of violence - identifying immigrants, Muslims, and others as potential threats. Hillary Clinton tapped into the fear people have toward a Donald Trump presidency. When we act out of fear, we respond with instinct not deliberative thought. We fight or run away. Campaigns hoped that our fight instinct would lead us to vote and engage with their campaign. 

What can we do moving forward? There are policy changes that would reduce the political segregation in America – such as an end to gerrymandering. While advocates in Ohio and across the country work on that, individuals can immediately: 

  1. Engage in more discourse:  With the holidays around the corner, most of us will want to retreat and not talk about the election in 'mixed company.' But we need more honest discourse as a nation. We need to debate what are our priorities, and move beyond sound byte responses. We need to really wrestle with our visions of how our world should and could be. Civility doesn't mean that we should avoid controversial and tense topics. Instead, civility means we can handle those difficult and tense topics in a mature way. 
  2. Learn another’s narrative: We need to understand what others are thinking. If you normally read the New York Times, switch to the Wall Street Journal a few times a week. If you watch Fox News, watch MSNBC. If you listen to Rush Limbaugh, listen to Trevor Noah. If you're from Columbus, read the Toledo Blade. If your from Cincinnati, read the Akron Beacon Journal. Get a new perspective on the world, not to change your mind, but so that you can hear and better understand why others are fearful.
  3. Engage those who win: Candidates are now public servants, campaign staffs are now public administrators, and our votes now need to be our voices. Most candidates are good people who want to make our communities better. We may disagree on how to do it, but lets have the conversation. Elected officials are a representation of the community – for better or for worse – so let’s work with whoever wins to govern effectively.

We can campaign on fear, but it is not effective for democratic governance. The choices made November 8th do matter. War, peace, safety standards, regulations, the future of education, and much more will be impacted by our next president. These decisions will have life and death consequences, and nobody will get it perfect. Now that the election season comes to a close, lets begin a season of civility to build a community where everyone has their daily bread.