As usual, Abraham Lincoln put it best in exhorting his fellow citizens to strive to finish the work to achieve a just and lasting peace. The final paragraph of Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865, delivered just weeks before his assassination, began with these still-familiar words: “With malice toward none, with charity for all …”
Elections are — and arguably should be — processes that inspire passion in voters in choosing between different candidates, different points of view and different visions for the appropriate roles of government. Elections should have consequences. That’s kind of the point.
But nearly as important as who’s elected is what happens after the votes are counted. In the United States, the long tradition of a peaceful transfer of power, even between rivals and rival factions, remains an essential one. The alternative undermines the self-governance upon which our country is founded. Here’s the other thing: No politician or political party of any stripe is more important than the constituencies they’re supposed to represent.
The tradition extends beyond politicians and parties to the populace. How do people behave after elections? Do they accept the results — whether happy, sad or ambivalent — and move on? Or do they cling to grudges? How do people treat others with whom they might have disagreed during the election after the election?
It would be refreshing, although hopelessly naive, to expect people to suddenly come together, to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” But there should be an expectation people respect the election process. Just as their should be a realization that far more unites us than divides us. Despite our perceived differences, most of us want the same things: rewarding work, safe and healthy families and the continued freedom to make our own choices. In other words, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Elections afford opportunities — to maintain the status quo if voters so choose or change directions, to keep some leaders in power or elect new ones. But elections also afford the opportunity to reset the dynamic and change the conversation — what some of us as children called a do-over.
The 2020 election offers a desperately needed do-over, a chance if not to reunite a divided country, then at least to make the country at bit less divided. Although we might disagree, we need not remain disagreeable.
There’s no more important time to come together to respond as one country to the ravages of a pandemic, to address enduring inequalities … to form a more perfect union.
Just as the country faced existential crisis in the midst of a civil war, horrendous challenges persist. A lot of work lies ahead to achieve a just and lasting peace.
There’s an opportunity after the election to work together more closely to address problems common to us all.
How will we proceed? How will we treat our fellow Americans?
Hopefully, we’ll listen once again to the words of Lincoln: “With malice toward none, with charity for all.”