People from both the winning and losing sides will have to decide how they wish to react to a new reality for this country.
For roughly 60,000,000 Americans, Inauguration Day 2021 will be a dark and crushing day. The people who backed the losing candidate will witness the swearing-in of the person they opposed (and possibly despise), and they are likely to feel despair, hopelessness and anger.
Inauguration Day will signify a new reality for this country, just as it always does. But this year, after months of a historically divisive campaign, it will present a particularly crucial moment for us. People from both the winning and losing sides will have to decide how they wish to react to this new reality. How they do so will reveal much about the next chapter of this nation.
Will the supporters of the losing candidate retreat into cynicism, bitterness and apathy? Will they feel cheated and resort to lawless civil disobedience? Will many people forever lose their sense of patriotism, or maybe just a piece of it?
And for the supporters of the winner, will they be gracious and respectful? Will they extend a hand of reconciliation, or will they taunt and ridicule their fellow Americans, thereby deepening the divisions of this country? I have a vivid memory of a Trump supporter shortly after the 2016 election smirking at me and saying, “I’m gloating. I’m double gloating.”
That was a cruel moment that I’ll never forget, but it showed me precisely how not to act towards someone whose candidate had lost. I still recall how hurtful those words were as well as the permanent damage they did to my relationship with that person.
In 1865, in a far more divisive time, President Abraham Lincoln visited the former Confederate capital of Richmond just days after it had fallen. There was no playbook for how victorious Americans were to treat defeated Americans. A Union commander asked Lincoln for directions on how he should deal with the people of the South. “Let ’em up easy,” replied Lincoln, in an extraordinary display of compassion of magnanimity.
If Lincoln could be magnanimous following a horrific Civil War, then surely we can treat others with civility following an election. Lincoln’s lesson of healing is as necessary today as it was in 1865.
If you backed the losing candidate, I would suggest a thorough self-examination is in order. You may feel comfort in wallowing in anger and shooting off pithy emails and memes to your friends about how aggrieved you feel, but what’s that going to accomplish? What is achieved by allowing your anger to fester if all you do with that anger is regret the past and wish it were different?
It is far more productive — albeit much harder — to ask yourself the tougher questions: Did I do my share to get my candidate elected? Did I volunteer enough of my time? Did I contribute financially and, if so, was it really enough or just a symbolic, token amount? Did I display a lawn sign, a bumper sticker, make phone calls, go door to door, work at the polls? Did I do anything at all, or just sit on the sidelines, criticize others and keep my fingers crossed that my candidate would win?
Patriotism in Israel
Americans are asked so little by our government. Basically, all we are expected to do is obey the laws and pay taxes. By contrast, the State of Israel requires all citizens over 18 to submit to national military service. Despite a wide diversity among the Israeli people, there is a profound sense of pride and patriotism.
I will never forget my last trip there when a crowd of people on a Tel Aviv street, for no apparent reason, spontaneously busted into the singing of the national anthem, “Hatikvah.” My group naturally joined in, and as I sang, I studied the faces of the Israelis around me, some of them tearful and all them feeling the heartfelt love toward their country. It was a surreal moment, and I recall being profoundly aware that one would never see something like that in America.
We haven’t had a military draft in America since 1973. Nothing at all mandates that we serve our country. But we can choose to impose that mandate on ourselves by pouring our time and energy into our elections. Healthy democracies demand no less. Democracy is not a spectator sport, as the saying goes.
It’s popular to forecast gloom and doom if the election doesn’t go the way we’d like. I’m as passionate as the next guy when it comes to politics, but excuse me if I don’t buy into the hyperbole that this will be the death of America if one candidate doesn’t win.
I’m quite sure the sun will rise on Jan. 21, 2021. But I’ll have little sympathy for those that bemoan the outcome but did nothing to avoid it. And I’ll be closely watching whether those same people — whose candidate will not be getting sworn in on Inauguration Day — will withdraw into apathy or commit to a whole new level of involvement in this democracy of ours.
In the post-mortem period of this tumultuous election, each American will have to face that all-important decision. Will they retreat from democracy or double down on it?
How they decide will ultimately have a profound impact upon the lives of my children, my grandchildren and the future of this nation.