But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. –Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Speech
There is simply nothing worse than the politics of ‘if you are for it, I’m against it.’
Americans deserve better from their leaders. After all, we’re all Americans first.
But too often the rhetoric of politics has become that the other side is ‘hell-bent’ on destroying our democracy and freedoms — and usually this rhetoric has little to no basis in actual fact.
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t round up the guns, nor did G.W. Bush take little old ladies’ life-preserving Social Security away — in the end, most of this sort of argument and rhetoric is simply bluster.
But we stand at a crossroads where all too many Americans see the difference of opinion as a difference in patriotism or devotion to a system of republican democracy.
Any number of hot-button issues can fill in the blank here, all with one simple commonality — in a nation of 320 million, there’s going to be some dissent about the way things should be done.
If we ever needed to look at America at the crossroads, the election of 1800 is the one to examine.
Both the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans saw America changing and didn’t like what they saw on the horizon.
The Jefferson-led revolution took the power from the New England and city elites, and placed it squarely in the hands of the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states — which they held on to for almost a generation.
In a nation of 320 million, there's going to be some dissent about the way things should be done.
This was a significant disruption in national power. The Federalists had relied on their strongholds in the cities from the foundation of the republic. To lose power to the ‘rural vote’ was an extreme blow to both ideology and national identity.
We must never glamorize the past the way it never was; the cities held most of the power from the foundation of the republic — and key cities in a handful of states often determined elections.
But this transition, from bullets to ballots, led to a growth in the nation that would have never happened under a federalist ideology — and America profited from this, both in size and global stature.
In 2016, we face a similar crisis of national identity, often driven by the red/blue map — but mostly driven by the urban/rural divide.
Sure, depending on who wins the election, we’ll see differences in foreign policy, national policy (especially in executive orders), and even the make-up of the Supreme Court.
But at some point, regardless of who wins, we need to have that Jeffersonian moment of reason — we are still all Americans.
Now approaching the 115th peaceful transition of power in the United States, this election should be the envy of the world . . . not the mockery of it.
On November 9, about half of the nation is going to be disappointed with the outcome of the election. That is an apparent fact. But rather than taking up arms or rioting, and hopefully not too many court challenges, most Americans are going to wake up to the same problems and joys they had before this election cycle began.
If anything, the sign of a functioning democracy is being ruled by people you don’t agree with at least half of the time.
There are no quick fixes, there is no imminent doom — just 320 million Americans trying to make life work the best they can.
And we will no doubt have ‘monuments of error’ protesting the outcome of the election, but to that small and vocal minority we’ll have to have faith like Jefferson’s — that reason is the most powerful force a free people can have.
Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP