Accepting the Challenge of Being Civil

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Election day is here, finally.  With this being one of the most divisive presidential elections in American history, we need closure. We need to move forward with a President Clinton or a President Trump.  

Even with the recent FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails, she will likely win.  Meanwhile, despite struggling numbers for Mr. Trump, Republicans still look like they will control the House.  Now, the toss-up question is the U.S. Senate.   

So what? If things look settled, why all the fuss?

We may take for granted our ability to vote.  When I taught AP Government, I told my students to register to vote on their 18th birthday.  I usually got a mix of reactions, including the apathetic and sarcastic  “Why does it matter?”  

My response: “Because you have a voice, so use it.”

So today, we use that voice: we cast our ballots knowing that what we do and who we vote for has consequences.  We do so with the knowledge that our vote will be counted among the millions of Americans who earnestly want a government that functions, cooperates, and works for the good of all.  We know and trust that, in our country, voter fraud occurs rarely during the process.

We trust  because we Americans understand that differences are decided at the ballot box.  

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Our politicians know this too. In their concession speeches, candidates show voters that the results are legitimate, and it is now time to move on.   An exercise in humility, it is an important symbol to us and to the world that the election is not about one single person, but about the country.  

We’ve seen this time and time again.

In 2000, the country woke up the morning after election night without a president.  The contested state of Florida had yet to declare an electoral college winner but it looked like Governor Bush was ahead by a few hundred votes.  Vice President Gore requested a recount.  His request was denied in a tight 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and Governor Bush won the election. In his prime time concession speech, Al Gore respectfully accepted Bush’s victory:

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.

And in 2008, John McCain conceded the race to Senator Barack Obama with honor and dignity.   During his speech, he silenced boos from the audience.  Acknowledging the significance of electing the first African-American president, he called Americans to support Obama.  

I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

Gore and McCain came from two different parties. In their greatest act of their campaign, they trusted and accepted the will of the American people.  While it may not have been the outcome they wanted, it was the final result.

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Whatever candidate we choose or position we fight for, let us exercise our right to vote with confidence.  Let us vote with a sense of integrity knowing that we will really make a difference, not only for ourselves, but for our fellow Americans.  

And at the end of the day, if our candidate loses or position fails, let’s follow the examples of Gore and McCain who avoided demonizing others.

Yes, this year has been contentious, and time is needed to mend the vitriolic rhetoric passed back and forth.  We might be tempted to use our social media to demonize others. But, if we choose to go beyond the biting words of a tweet or a snarky Facebook post, we are actually doing something honorable.  

We are choosing to accept the challenge of being civil.  

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Image courtesy FlickrCC user Michael Bentley.

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