Elections may not feel peaceful, but they are

Election time — for some, it’s game time. They embrace the crackling energy and the confrontation between candidates vying for leadership.

For others, it is draining, depressing and scary to see our country divided, seemingly torn apart into rival factions. They can’t wait for the election to be over.

Here’s the good news: Elections, as nasty as they get, are a peaceful substitute for violence. We humans still have a lot of aggression in our DNA, but now when we choose our leaders, we channel that into words rather than physical attacks — for the most part. Yes, there have been battles between protesters and police in a few American cities, but even as Americans disagree on who’s to blame, few of us believe that is how it ought to be.

It’s just not how we operate in this country. We don’t let ourselves be led by those who seize power by force, or those who inherit it by birthright. We agree — all of us — to debate with vigor but without violence, we agree on election rules everyone (for the most part) follows, and we agree to peacefully transition from one leader to the next. That’s an amazing achievement. Ancient civilizations would envy us.

Sometimes, it might feel like all that is on the verge of falling apart, but we are not so sure. It’s easy to raise fears that the other side wants to destroy “life as we know it,” but really, it wouldn’t make much sense for leaders on any side to throw away what we have. As bad as things may be, in the perspective of human history, the United States still has a pretty good thing going on.

So does that make us optimists here at the Enterprise? Rationally, yes, we think it is most likely that the republic will hold through this election. But emotionally, it’s rough. Fear is such a driving force in human lives, and believe us — we are scared and discouraged, too. We are, at our core, peaceful. We want people to live and work with each other, if not as friends then at least as respectful neighbors.

The division and conflict won’t end after Nov. 3. We know that.

For one thing, with so many absentee ballots this year, it’s likely we won’t know all the results that night. We might have to wait a few days, or even (gulp) weeks. That will try our patience. In a way, that is a good thing, because we will need our patience strengthened for what lies ahead.

If our nation makes it through this trial without going crazy, we then have to accept the results, like them or not. That will be tough for a whole lot of people, one way or another. Nevertheless, we have done it every election since our nation’s founding, and we will do it again.

Then will come perhaps the biggest challenge of all: The election winners must at least try to govern for everyone, not just those who voted for them. And the people whose candidates didn’t win must try, at least, to live with the leaders others chose.

They shouldn’t stop speaking up and make rational appeals for justice, reason, compassion and compromise. That is the stuff democratic government is made of. But bitter grievances aren’t helpful. We can’t treat each other like enemies. We are fellow citizens. Opposing parties may not like each other very much right now, but we all have to live with each other going forward.

How? It makes us think of a scene in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s book “The Little Prince,” when a fox appears and asks the prince to tame him.

“(I)f you tame me, then we shall need each other,” the fox said.

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me — like that — in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day …”


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