From the age of 18, I have been an active voter and a vocal participant in local politics. I have been an enthusiastic campaign volunteer, a starry-eyed city council intern, a party stalwart for my local Democratic Party organization, and even became the first openly gay President of the Young Democrats of Richmond County. Therefore, it should be no surprise that every election season is met with great excitement and anticipation. Every speech, a potential turning point, every State of The Union Address is my super bowl, and even the most boring of debates have captivated more of my attention than perhaps they should. 2016 has been no different. I have read nearly every article on the subject of this election, actively monitored every poll by the minute, and have been a religious viewer of every debate from the primary to the general election. However, recently, for the first time in my life, the most anticipated moment about an election is its end. This is a sentiment that I know many Americans of all political stripes share.
It has become cliché during every election season for the candidates and the pundits to talk about how America has never been so divided as it is at that moment. Well, this time, its true. There has never been an election that has been so bitterly personal and usually the personal animosity is reserved for the candidates at the top of the ticket and those who work tirelessly to get them elected. 2016, however, is different. While there is certainly no shortage of personal animosity between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the more dangerous tension is between American voters themselves.
Americans are opinionated and that is part of what makes our country great. Freedom of speech, thought, and expression of ideas is a treasure that many people across the globe do not enjoy and we ought not take it for granted. However, what we have lost in the circus of the 2016 election is the ability to express our ideas and views in a way that is informed, respectful, and civil. The presence of 24/7 news and social media has exasperated the poisonous tone of American political discourse in 2016. For every crude, racist, sexist, or downright disgusting remark made by Donald Trump, there has been a willing and ratings hungry cable news network soaking it all up and for every Hillary Clinton email released either by Wikileaks or the State Department, there has been a Bernie bro proclaiming that Hillary Clinton killed his cat and therefore, should not be President.
Social media has been the spot where the most partisan driven venom has coursed through the veins of the American public. Self-righteous slactivists on both sides of the political spectrum who opine and preach to the choirs of the ideological echo chambers they’ve created amongst their followers using clever (or so they say) memes and articles from underground blogs which, to put it politely, severely lack in terms of credibility as a “news” source. Then, there are the comments, some of which contain some well thought out responses but most spiral into personal feuds with both parties battling it out for the last word. Exchanges like these only prove the old adage that we listen not understand but only to respond. That is not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t make posts about or perspectives. If used responsibly, social media can be an informative tool in any election. If we choose to make political posts on our social media accounts, we should do so in a way that is informed and we should prepare to defend our positions with those who may not share our perspectives in a way that is respectful and preserves the dignity of both parties involved.
However, the division of this election has taken its toll on personal relationships with family and friends. A dear friend of mine recently lamented about the strain her mother’s support for Donald Trump has caused in their relationship and that they even went a few weeks without speaking. I, myself, have grown surprised at some of the ignorance, hatred, and racism that I have seen spewed both on social media and in person by friends, family, and neighbors all of which are good people who have been motivated to say such things by racial resentment. This resentment expressed by people I thought I knew, is motivated by fear caused by the presence of the first black president and the increasingly likely possibility of White Americans becoming the minority in the not too distant future.
I have cut ties with many of those who have polluted my newsfeed with racist and offensive rhetoric. In some cases, it was a painful decision but as Maya Angelou once said, “when someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Recent news stories have suggested that bullying in schools has increased because Donald Trump’s constant presence in the TV news cycle has legitimized the behavior and actions of bullies. Other stories suggest that Americans are becoming sick of the election…literally. AARP reported that older Americans have reported health problems related to election related stress and the American Psychological Association has noted an increase in calls by stressed out voters to crisis call centers by stressed out voters and political observers.
The next president of the United States has much healing to do once they are sworn into office on January 20, 2017. However, in the mean time, let’s all be informed and responsible citizens and vote our conscientious. I will be proudly casting my vote on November 8 but my usual enthusiastic attitude towards voting will be Trumped (pardon the pun) by relief that this year and a half long fiasco will finally be coming to an end.