Here in Vermont, a similar scenario played out at the top of the statewide ticket, as Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott handily won the governor’s race over Democrat Sue Minter. Scott won despite the fact that Minter appeared to be even or slightly ahead in the polls and had gained endorsements from many newspaper editors and key politicians including Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, and even Barack Obama. Again, a similar conclusion can be drawn that voters in Vermont were ready for a change, perceived Minter as similar to the current governor, Peter Shumlin, and saw Scott and his ideas as a change in direction that the state needed.
While Scott and Trump are decidedly different in personality and style, there is no doubt they each appealed to those voters who felt the status quo had to go.
Now that the winners in the elections have been declared, the questions that remain about this election cycle in many ways bounce back to the voters. Where do we go now, as a nation, as a state, and as a community?
There has been a lot of anger and venom spewed in many elections at all levels. How do people on both sides move on and work together? Given the polarizing nature of politics, can people even agree to work together? How do we get beyond the fractured political parties, polarizing campaign rhetoric, and angry voters? Are those things, those compromises, even possible in today’s world? Those are the overarching questions that can only be answered by time and introspection.
A good place to start might be with empathy. To really get things done in this country, it will take people on all sides of the political spectrum to be willing to step out of their comfort zone and look at problems from different angles, from other people’s perspectives. It might help to see things differently, and to tone down the anger that has been prevalent in this election.
Another place to find ways to help move the country forward could well be in the past. This is not the first time the country has had a contentious election that left both sides bruised and battered. Think about the election of 2000, when Al Gore appeared to beat George W. Bush, only to lose out thanks to a small third-party run by Ralph Nader and some dubious ballots in Florida. Eventually, Bush was declared the winner and Gore gave up his challenge, although it took a refusal by the Supreme Court to consider the matter to finally put an end to the election. Less than a year later, the country was attacked on September 11, and the course of history was altered forever.
Another example is from an election that took place a century ago. In 1916, as Jim Dassatti’s article on page A1 points out, the nation was split between war and peace. The country was torn, and even though Woodrow Wilson won the election, his plans for keeping the country out of World War I ultimately didn’t work. The country had to come together to support a war that its own president was against after the Germans tried to have Mexico attack the United States. As the article illustrates, sometimes we just don’t know how things will work out.
But, in both of those elections the country moved on. In both cases, unexpected events changed the course of history in ways that couldn’t be avoided.
Despite what we believe, we don’t know what the future will hold. Tuesday’s election results vividly show that to be the case. But what we do know is that we as a country and as a state need leadership that is flexible, committed, and ready to act. What we don’t need is leadership that is narcissistic, corrupt, or so wedded to a core ideology that it can’t react to issues as they arise.
In reality, the Trump win will have less impact on Vermonters’ day-to-day lives than Scott’s will. Decisions made in Montpelier will have more impact on us than those made in Washington.
Regardless of how one voted on Tuesday, people need to find common ground whenever possible, and agree to disagree with civility and mutual respect when that ground can’t be found.
Those are the bedrock principles of what really makes America great.