Well, that was unpleasant.
The United States of America has elected presidents under some pretty trying circumstances. Roosevelt was re-elected in the midst of a world war and Abraham Lincoln in the midst of a full-blown, shooting civil war.
The nation emerged from those elections intact, even unified, although in the 1860s it was at the point of a gun. Still the republic survived, grew.
With all of that history and with the history of the past century as a road map of where not to go, the U.S. ended up with a presidential election campaign this year where vast swaths of the nation were insulted and an entire political party surrendered itself to the ravings of a bullying son of privilege who played the eternal victim and for whom reality was no obstacle to hurdle.
Anyone with any social media presence saw the hate metastasize. Fact-free conversations weren’t relegated to the national political stage. They raged in Facebook threads and Twitter feeds, torrents of bigotry gleefully unshackled from the mantle of shame. It was wholly awful and repulsive to see.
And with local elections on the horizon in spring of 2017, we wonder and fear how deeply the damage done to our national political discourse and in the faith of democratic institutions has burrowed.
Next spring, many of the municipalities in the area will hold elections for mayors, presidents, trustees, school board members and more. In the past, while there’s always been political debate, the tone has never fallen so low as that dialed in by Donald Trump in 2016.
The challenge at the local level is to make sure that it doesn’t. We are not each other’s enemies. We all live in the same communities; we’re neighbors. We all pay taxes to support the local governmental institutions that provide police and fire protection, maintain roads and sewers and water mains, and offer public services like recreation and libraries and public schools.
The people running for these offices at the local level are residents, often simply volunteering their time. Cabals and conspiracies are exceedingly rare, and to lightly charge your neighbors of being on the take or in it for reasons other than public service, without a shred of evidence, is the kind of dialogue that we’re hearing now nationally.
But we should take pains to make sure that our local elections don’t devolve into the issue-free reality TV show that was the 2016 presidential campaign.
If there’s no faith in local government, there’s no faith in ourselves. So when you hear someone who says they’d like a hand in governing a community like Riverside or Brookfield or North Riverside but at the same time expresses doubt in the ability of government institutions to work in the interest of residents, that’s when you ought to look good and hard at that messenger.
That’s the time to wonder, if government is incapable of working in the best interests of residents, whose interests exactly will your government be working to improve?