Can we exhale now? As sales of muscle relaxants, sleeping pills, and bourbon escalate, I suspect many people are asking that question. While most pundits predicted a bumpy ride, no one could have predicted the bizarre and mind-numbing behavior at election sites where poll workers attempted to count the votes. In Arizona and Pennsylvania, men armed with military-style assault weapons (AR-15 and AK-47) were a menacing presence. Workers needed to have police escorts to return to their cars. Of course, those gathered were not wearing masks, adding another layer of danger. This would have been a good opportunity to remind protesters that the first amendment gives us the right to protest, not to intimidate.
Noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones found his way to Phoenix to claim that voting in the country was all a fraud. Previously, Jones maintained that the Sandy Hook massacre, killing 26 students and staff, was a hoax intended to take guns away from Americans. He continues to maintain that the COVID-19 pandemic is a hoax. Chants of “count the vote” could be heard outside of Elections offices as workers were doing just that.
Since Joe Biden has been declared President-elect, I hope this will be the dawning of a new era of respect, understanding, and peace.
What has been deeply disturbing during the last four years is the fracturing of relationships. Divorce has escalated overheated political disagreements. Long-term friendships have ended, and holiday dinners have been carefully orchestrated, if not canceled. When a daughter found out how her mother voted she screamed, “You are no longer my mother!” Kellyanne Conway and George Conway, of Lincoln Project fame, ended their political involvement because their children indicated they no longer wanted to be part of the family.
There are hopeful signs that the carnage of disrespect and vitriol may decline. We have a President-elect who, as a member of Congress, was comfortable and successful at reaching across the aisle. Republicans in the past have praised his ability to bring people together.
As the dust settles, it is up to all citizens to push the restart button. Instead of bemoaning the past, we need to seize the opportunity to rebuild relationships and rebuild a country suffering from deep racial, cultural and political divisions in the midst of an out-of-control pandemic.
What are the tools we need to bring to this new era? I believe we need to bring patience (incremental progress is still progress), understanding, and the willingness to become professional listeners. Real listening is the key ingredient. Not much listening has happened in the last few years.
My grandfather was a civil engineer who built bridges around Kentucky. I do not remember him because he died when I was three years old, but I see many bridges and think his work of building bridges must be our work.
Can we roll up our sleeves and start over, becoming bridge builders in the most challenging of times?
Where would you begin?