Recently, Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a photo of a letter written to Bill Clinton from George H.W. Bush, after he had just lost the election to Clinton in 1992. In this letter, Bush wrote about his respect for Clinton and how he believed Clinton would do a fine job in office. He also described the hardships of the office and wished Clinton the best of luck. This show of respect and unity between opposing presidential candidates seems like a thing of the past now, especially given the recent remarks of Hillary Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump.
In the last presidential debate, Trump was asked if he would accept the results of the election. He responded with “I will look at it at the time.” In fact, he has twice been reluctant to accept the results of the election. This denial of election results is unprecedented, and the complete antithesis of the mutual respect shown in Bush’s gesture to Clinton. Trump’s reluctance to concede exemplifies and exacerbates the fostered divisiveness and anger in this election cycle. Trump has run his campaign on the notion that the Washington establishment is corrupt and indecisive, and many voters have flocked to his side because hard times have led them to become angry at “government elites.” Trump’s reluctance to concede exemplifies this divisiveness and anger because he accuses the Washington establishment of not only cheating the people, but also of cheating the election. This accusation only gives his supporters more anger to feed off of, and leads them to take further action to force the establishment to accede to their demands without compromise.
Trump’s reluctance to concede also exacerbates divisiveness and anger. People are already taking the next steps. In fact, according to a survey from Elementum, sixteen percent of Americans are planning on buying a gun after the election, and according to a survey by USA Today/Suffolk University, fifty-one percent of Americans are concerned about violence occurring as a result of the election. Given the current levels of political divisiveness, it is not hard to fathom that violent protests will occur, and even worse, that large groups of people will not recognize the legitimacy of Clinton’s government or refuse to follow her laws and policies. All in all, a destructive cycle has started. As people refuse to participate politically, fewer problems are discussed and dealt with in Congress, and more people become unhappy, lose faith in the government, and protest. The cycle then repeats itself. Eventually these protests become violent, as we have seen at Trump rallies and at various riots across the country, and begin to destabilize the political system.
Notions of widespread violence and the destabilization of the republic may seem hyperbolic; they are still outside the fringes of mainstream politics. However, what has entered mainstream politics is the synonymy of compromise and weakness. Both Trump and Bernie Sanders have attacked politicians for compromising their values in Washington. At the same time, recent Congresses have broken records for least bills passed. This is due to increased polarization between Republicans and Democrats as well as voters’ increased expectation that their representatives uphold their values without compromise. Furthermore, political discussion on social media has gradually devolved from passionate debate into personal attacks and ignorance. Instead of testing their opinions in the marketplace of ideas, people increasingly attack each other verbally and shut out dissenting opinions, and as a result little discourse or progress occurs. This path is being walked every day in civil society and in Congress. If we do not break up this synonymy of compromise and weakness, people will become increasingly divided and angry, and political violence and even authoritarianism will eventually find their way into mainstream politics.
When voting this Tuesday, I urge you vote with your conscience, but more importantly, I urge you to accept the results of the election regardless of the winning candidate, and to understand we must move forward as a country together. Donald Trump’s reluctance to accept the election results sets a very dangerous precedent, and could legitimize violent protests and increase widespread loss of faith in government. George H.W. Bush may have been disappointed with the results of the election in 1992, but he understood that in order to move forward he had to learn to compromise with President Clinton’s initiatives. His message of unity was only possible with the use of compromise, and I hope we as the American people can learn that before it is too late.
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