Saying that politics in the United States is reaching heightened levels of hostility between people on the opposing extremes is an understatement of unimaginable proportions. The animosity between supporters of one party for the supporters of the other has almost driven people to violence. It is as if polite discussion and disagreement is no longer an option and the best policy might be to simply avoid all discussions about the coming elections or, if such is unavoidable, simply agree and be happy to walk away intact. Politics have reached toxic levels and not only with the ardent followers of politics but has gotten to a point where anything is fair as long as it serves your candidate and nothing is forgivable if it is done by the other side or their supporters. There appears to be no room for forgiveness or even civil discourse which makes voicing a preference a potentially aggressive action which may be interpreted as an offense. The question is where will this viciousness lead us and our society?
The viciousness of some encounters has resulted in the breaking of friendships which had withstood previous election cycles. Some family relations have become strained and even broken off. It is as if many view this upcoming election as the ultimate political confrontation from which the losing side will be unable to recover. They view this election as being for all the marbles, not just until the next election. Where we may not have witnessed an election which took such hold of people’s emotions, this is not unprecedented. Those familiar with the history of Presidential election in the United States have likely studied elections throughout our history and can attest that the election between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams was another election which caught the attention of the population and was thought to be an election to determine the future of the young country. Where one candidate, Thomas Jefferson had one view of the role of government within the greater society, John Adams had a near opposite view and the debate between the men was something far short of civil. We like to believe that all previous elections were more civilized, honest, and respectful; a sanitized view of our history. Perhaps some particulars and examples would help define how contentious the campaign of 1800 really was.
One thing for sure, the mutual respect and friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson made no appearances during their campaigning. Thomas Jefferson’s campaign accused John Adams of being a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” John Adams campaign responded accusing Thomas Jefferson of being “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Before it was all over and the voting decided the elections, Adams was labeled a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was branded a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. Both candidates spent most of the campaign at home allowing hired spokesmen and character assassins to carry the name-calling in their stead throughout the States. It was during this campaign that the Thomas Jefferson affair with Sally Hemings was first made public complete with the claims of Thomas Jefferson fathering Ms. Hemings’ child. The one advantage our countrymen had in 1800 that we no longer have today was that they did not receive the final results of the election the night of the votes being cast. Where we will know who won the election before we go to sleep on Election Day in November, the Americans of 1800 would not even know the results of the voting in their own area until the next day or even for a week if they resided in a sufficiently large city. The final results of the election and who would be sworn in as the next President would not likely be known to the general public for weeks, likely months. They had all that time without hearing any more electioneering, any more claims and mudslinging before they would have to deal with the final results. We, on the other hand, will know by Wednesday at the latest, more than likely, who won and we will not be far removed from the emotional aspects of the campaign and everything will be a recent memory, a recent wound should our choice lose. This instant knowledge is a disservice as it does not allow for Americans in this immediate modern world to gain a little space and perspective with which to moderate our reactions.
The acrimony and sheer intensity of emotions being forged already in this Presidential campaign could lead the American people to a place we will forever rue. We may be witness to violence being caused by an election unseen since the middle of the nineteenth century with the onset of the Civil War. Emotions are running rampant and unchecked with both pundits and regular people who are reacting with a certainty of their convictions which does not leave room for compromise. The emotional levels being exhibited by both camps are truly frightening; at least I find them so. My fortune, or misfortune, is that I do not support either of the major Party candidates and have no animosity or preference which leaves me horrified by the fanaticism being exhibited by both sides. I already was not exactly looking forward to Election Day as when the winner is announced I know it will not be a candidate I support for the office of President. The only advantage I will have is that I will be equally unemotional about who lost as I am sure to be about who wins. Unfortunately, I will still be subject to whatever results which will come and have to live through the possible vindictive actions pursued by the most ardent supporters of the losing candidate. I pray that the reactions will be restrained, controlled and passive instead of what I have heard some predict will be their reaction should their candidate lose, and I have heard such claims from people from both sides. Perhaps all the claims are pure bluster, or so I hope as we cannot afford it to be otherwise.
Beyond the Cusp