Bringing the Country Back Together

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

"We've got to listen to the voters of the other party," John Kasich told CNN on the morning following the most contentious presidential election in US history. "What are the people in the rural areas having to say? Can we listen to them? Can we hear what their problems are and try to solve them? We've got to get this country united. So, that requires listening," he added.

Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio and two-time GOP candidate for president, is a good role model for reaching across the political divide. After all, he endorsed Democrat Joe Biden in his 2020 presidential bid.

Why is that so remarkable?

Our increasingly partisan world

We live in bubbles. I live in a bubble. I have no illusions about that.

When Massachusetts polls closed at 8 pm last night, news networks immediately gave my state's 11 electoral votes to Joe Biden. That wasn't a surprise … to anyone. We're a blue state.

In presidential elections, Massachusetts has voted blue every time since 1960, with two exceptions, in 1980 and 1984 when Massachusetts supported Ronald Reagan by thin margins.

Presidential candidates don't campaign much here — unless they're on their way to New Hampshire, New England's swing state.

It felt bleak, during election night

Things looked bleak last night for voters in Blue Massachusetts. It felt like 2016, all over again. The onslaught of key race insights and developing vote tallies threw cold water into the face of our months-long mantra of 'how could Trump ever be elected again?'

Because it felt like 'four more years' was coming, like it was actually going to happen.

In Blue Massachusetts, Trump campaign signs are rare enough that they get pointed to and gawked at. We drive by them, staring, like we do with train wrecks: with a sense of guilt-ridden wonder.

Last night, no matter which network we watched, it looked like the tide was turning red even as we waited for the blue wave long-promised by pundits and the liberal media.

America is growing … further apart

America is growing more liberal. It's also growing more conservative. If we weren't living through it, this wouldn't make sense.

In 1993, when the Senate confirmed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, it happened by a vote of 96–3, with just three (of 44) Republican members of the Senate opposing President Bill Clinton's nomination.

A generation later, the Senate confirmed her replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, through a highly partisan vote of 52–48, with just one Republican senator (of 53) breaking party lines and voting "nay" on President Trump's nomination.

Today's politicians, like today's American public, have grown increasingly divided. It's hard to find liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. We no longer seem to want to elect political centrists and compromise-seekers. Instead, political extremists excite us and get us out to vote.

How did we get here?

We got here because we're unwilling to listen to the other side. As John Kasich told CNN on November 4, "if we don't [listen to the other side, we will] have this unbelievable siloed effect in America."

But, the fact is that we already have our silos in the US. And this election exposes the frayed seams holding us together as a nation.

We can blame politicians or the media, but they're just reflections of ourselves and the society we've built. We build silos and then live within them — surrounding ourselves with people who share our opinions and shutting out those who don't.

Social media allows us to embrace our increasingly partisan identities. When we're scrolling social media, we can control what news we see, what stories we hear, and what biases we're exposed to.

On social media, suddenly, everyone has a platform to publish their unfiltered views on race, politics, immigration, education, and healthcare. Now, you can know how your former neighbor from decades ago feels about Supreme Court justices or abortion rights, or whether your LGBTQ+ daughter should be able to marry her girlfriend and call it marriage.

And when things get too heated, we can just change the channel, close the laptop screen, hide someone's feed for 30 days, or unfollow them forever. We can silence views we don't agree with. We can just walk away.

When we walk away, nothing gets done

When we walk away, we tell the other side that their views don't matter. That we don't care what they think. That their needs don't matter to us.

When we just pool together in our like-minded communities, there's no one left to bridge the divide — to have those hard conversations. There's no kid at the middle school dance who's going to work up a conversation between the two sides, staring at each other, leaning against opposing walls. There's no matchmaker — no compromise.

Even on the morning after the election, with so much still undecided, President Trump and Former Vice President Biden have each received more than 66 million votes. That's more than either of the winning candidates received in the 2016 or 2012 elections.

Two countries sharing one space

Watching the results of the 2020 presidential election come in, it's clear that division exists between urban and suburban voters and voters who live in rural areas. There's a "Blue US" and a "Red US." It’s like we live in two countries that are forced to share the same space. Because we do.

That division manifests within families, between friends, even inside marriages.

We need to have those tough conversations. We need to see the other side.

Or we'll keep predicting landslide wins for our candidate, only to be baffled by those who vote for the other side. We're not seeing them because we're not listening to them.

This manifests in how we interact in social media, in our communities, and in who we send to represent us in Washington.

Our elected officials represent us, but they reflect our weaknesses too. Our polarization plays out in the congressional chambers. Too often, it's 'our team against theirs', and whoever has the most players wins.

Putting America back together

We need to get united. That’s going to mean listening to the other side, and understanding why they feel ignored.

Whoever wins the 2020 election must put America back together. Getting the votes counted is just the beginning.

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Ryan W Owen

Ryan W Owen

Writer / Photographer / Linguist / MBA