Read time: ~5 minutes
While heading out to walk my dog this morning, I passed one of my neighbors in the lobby of my condominium building. As usual, I said good morning and smiled. I was greeted with a scowl and the response: “It isn’t a good morning. We are all going straight to hell.” “Maybe not straight to hell,” I replied. “I think we have a few off ramps between here and there.”
My neighbor represents the sentiments of roughly half of Americans today as the sun rises across our country. Shock, deep anxiety, fear and lots of finger pointing are on tap for some while jubilation, a sense of vindication and a feeling of having been heard are on tap for others. The state of America has been fully revealed. Bask in it or abhor it, we got what we got.
This election cycle represents where we are as a nation. Many of us forged an uneasy, and for some an unholy, alliance with the candidates for whom we voted. This election presented us with a choice between two of the most disliked and polarizing candidates in modern presidential election history. It presented us with a choice between two candidates who were both widely viewed as dishonest and untrustworthy. This election provided a 24/7 platform for an endless stream of nastiness and divisiveness, for name calling and bullying, for the spreading of hatred and fear. But this election also presented us with an opportunity.
Whether your candidate won or lost yesterday, we have the opportunity to put this kind of politicking in the rear view mirror—and we should take it. This election cycle is a call to action: we must restore the integrity of the institutions upon which our democracy relies. The word “integrity” cannot be used to describe anything that happened during this election cycle. Neither our candidates nor our political parties nor our media has been acting with integrity. Each said and did whatever they believed would maximize their chance of winning either the Oval Office or ratings. No matter who you supported, the American people lost.
After every election, there are always those who feel the republic is on the road to hell. If we really are on that road, our only off ramp is the restoration of the integrity of our institutions. Wide spread disaffection, disillusionment and disgust of the establishment across the political spectrum has brought us to this place. Trust has been replaced by fear and loathing but this is fixable. “We” are our institutions (at least until the robot overlords take over). As long as “we the people” get up and go to work each day for politicians and parties, for newspapers, television networks and internet media sources; as long as we reward with our attention media outlets or with our votes politicians, then we have a direct say in what these institutions mirror back to us. If we don’t like what we see reflected, then we need to choose to care enough to demand better through our actions and not just our complaints. Each of us has a role to play and all of our roles matter. Too many of us haven’t been playing our parts. We have ceded our individual authority.
You and I may be sole individuals but we are not powerless. The media can’t pump out false narratives and fill our heads with nonsense if each, individual reporter refuses to engage in that or if each, individual viewer refuses to watch it. Candidates who lack integrity can’t get elected to office if each voter makes the individual decision not to support them. Each of us only has to worry about the one person whose decisions we control: ourselves. But here is an important key: if we aren’t in the habit of acting with the highest integrity, we won’t be able to recognize integrity or the lack of it in others. It begins with each of us, individually.
For me, this election represents an opportunity to renew my commitment to always act with the highest integrity and to search out and support those individuals and institutions who are acting with high integrity. If our republic really is on the road to hell, I don’t intend to watch and lament this from the sidelines. I intend to play my individual role—the role that only I can play—in being a part of the solution. It is my hope today that each of you feels the empowerment and courage to play your individual role. We matter. Our roles, our contributions matter.
We got what we got this election cycle. Now let’s act to make sure we get better from this moment forward.