There are a number of people who believe the political system is so broken, we need a strong, shrewd leader like President Trump who is rash enough to take a sledgehammer to the machinery, so that it can be properly rebuilt. AND THEY ARE NOT WRONG.
There are others who believe President Trump is a boorish bully who sowed the seeds of hate in his campaign and is now reaping what he sowed. AND THEY ARE NOT WRONG.
The reason both divergent viewpoints are not wrong is that a hallmark of democracy is freedom of expression. Indeed, such freedom is an inalienable human right (see free will). However when we see messages on Facebook suggesting presidential assassination is worthy of consideration, or supporters of the president promising physical abuse of dissenters, things have gone too far.
This country has been hopelessly fractured at least three times before. The ratification debates at the dawn of the Republic were as bitter as any campaign since. To say nothing of the Civil War, where in the prelude, one congressman caned another on the floor of Congress. And then there was the Vietnam era, when the streets were filled with rioting and gunshot disturbed our campuses. In the first two crises, we had extraordinary leaders (Washington, Lincoln) who led the country away from the abyss. The third time we did not: we had Nixon, who if anything was a divisive force (see “Silent Majority” vs. “Radic-libs”). Though it is too early to tell, it does not seem as if the current incumbent is bent on presenting a unifying force, but rather is cut in the in-your-face Nixon mold.
What saved the country in the mid-sixties-seventies era was the people. Through peaceful assembly and by voting out the incumbents the public infused the other branches of government with a will and a determination to end the madness. And the storm blew over.
Now it is again up to the public to heal the fracture, to which I offer three simple Rx’s.
1. When someone on the other side of the political divide says something particularly incendiary, take a deep breath and count to three (or ten or a hundred if need be) and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
2. Realize that the glue that binds us together is not hate. Indeed there is more that we agree upon than not…running the gamut from Reagan’s words, that we are “a shining city upon the hill”, to a consensus that neither Trump nor H. Clinton were exemplars of public rectitude.
3. Finally, recognizing that almost 97% of incumbents were reelected to Congress this past term, and that the crew is up again in just 20 short months, send this out as a form of petition to our elected officials telling them, as the voting public did in 1974, “If you cannot work together, we will vote for the non-incumbent, regardless of who (s)he is, removing the lot of you and taking a shot with a whole new group.
Despite his late popularity courtesy of the Broadway show, Alexander Hamilton feared mass democracy, calling it a “Great Beast.” In a way he never imagined, the united disapproval of the Great Beast will focus the attention of our “leaders” to stop the madness. In the meantime, have at Trump, or the media, or the liberal elites or whomever you choose, but when you are tempted to demonize those you disagree with, consider whether it is a time for a lowering of voices.