Election season never comes without a certain amount of vitriol. Since the founding of the United States, our presidential elections have been filled to the brim with fire and hatred coming from all political parties involved. At least we have moved on from tactics used in the Election of 1800, where supporters of Thomas Jefferson accused John Adams of being a hermaphrodite, and Adams’ supporters alleged that Jefferson was actually dead. Truly, election season brings out the worst in Americans. Yet, it seems that once again, the presidential election brought out something special across the country.
Republicans and Democrats rarely get along, but the Trump/Clinton race was particularly venomous. It’s not hard to notice; Facebook feeds are feeling much more aggressive than they were four years ago. Trump supporters chanted “Lock her up!” at his rallies, and accused Clinton supporters of being brainwashed into supporting the government machine; Clinton referred to Trump’s supporters as “a basket of deplorables”, and anti-Trump rhetoric was overwhelmingly strong on certain mainstream media networks. From the beginning, animosity was in the air, and over the course of the last few months it only worsened. The main problem, as I see it, is that much of this animosity was irreconcilable.
In previous elections, a person’s choice of candidate was not an indictment of their values and character. Many people voted primarily on one or two issues that mattered most to them; just because I voted differently from my roommate didn’t mean that we had fundamentally different opinions on life. Now, that isn’t really the case. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton represent two totally different worldviews, and that difference is clearly reflected in their bases. Americans may have voted against one candidate rather than voting in favor of one of them, but that vote is still an express rejection of an entire way of life. Suddenly, it makes more sense that people are verbally attacking one another. At this point, we really have nothing we can agree on.
Unfortunately this gulf will be difficult to cross. Our disagreements are no longer on details or semantics; they instead run much deeper. We are now disagreeing on values, and those are something that cannot be argued away. It’s not “small government versus big government.” It’s secularism vs. religion; it’s interventionism vs. isolationism; it’s globalism vs. nationalism. Many of these views can be backed up with facts—and have been many times—but at the end of the day choosing one or the other will often boil down to emotion. We just can’t argue feelings, and that’s where a lot of this venom is coming from. People feel personally attacked when others criticize their views, and it’s because we’re not dealing in opinions anymore, but in values. No one likes their values being challenged, and it’s safe to say that quality is clearly visible right now.
With that said, all hope is not lost. Trump in particular is a very polarizing and inflammatory figure, and in all likelihood future candidates will not be nearly as destructive to the political process as he is. This election has definitely been influential on American politics for decades to come, but with the acceptance of one candidate over the other, we can begin the process of reconciliation. One party will field a likable and competent candidate, and the country will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and unite once again. The United States didn’t break apart in 1800, and it has no reason to break apart now.
Danny Miles is a third-year student who has had just about his fill of Facebook arguments this year.