By Ken Trainor
It's morning after in America. Whatever happened yesterday in our grand quadrennial exercise in citizenship, it would be lovely to predict that Americans will now close ranks and come together following a long, hard-fought struggle. Alas, we all know that is not the case.
Instead, many this morning are bemoaning the fact that this election only confirmed that we remain deeply divided as a nation. United we stand, they will warn, divided we fall. Exhausted by the whole ordeal, many of us will lie low for a while. Some will say they're fed up with the ugly business of politics altogether. Thoroughly disgusted, they will insist they want no further part of it.
I wish I could extend words of consolation on this morning after, but the best I can offer is this:
We are not divided.
We are merely opposed.
Our longstanding American dream is national unity. We lament and condemn divisiveness. Well, cheer up (or be careful what you wish for) because we are united.
In fact, we're stuck with each other.
We don't much like the opposition and we often despise what they hold dear. Hell, we can't even talk to one another. To carry on a dialogue, first you have to listen, and Americans, for the most part, aren't listening.
Communication is further complicated by the fact that there are more than two sides to this argument. There are the positions each side actually holds, and then there are the positions each side thinks the other side holds. That's four sides — and we're only talking about the two major parties.
Nonetheless we are united — in opposition. That includes Libertarians and Greens, Independents and Moderates. It even includes those who don't — or won't — vote.
You can't run away from politics, no matter how much it repulses you. The policies (or lack thereof) legislated by the winners have a very real effect on you and your loved ones — whether you recognize that fact or ignore it.
Welcome to the United States, where we're stuck with one another. Good citizens, lousy citizens, lazy citizens, scoundrels and saints, Red states, Blue states, haves and have-nots, and everyone in between.
If your side won last night (presuming a decision was reached), you are responsible for what the winners do or don't do. You're also responsible for how the winners conducted their campaigns because you approved it — and encouraged more of the same in the future — with your vote. You might want to ask yourself how that makes you feel.
On the other hand, if your side lost last night, depending on the final makeup of Congress, you're responsible for how much the winners can or can't get done.
Even if you didn't vote, or voted for minor party candidates, you're also responsible for who won and who lost, no matter how principled your abstinence or protest votes might have been.
We're all culpable.
There was a time when our "oppositional unity" produced less discomfort, but this is not one of those times. For better or worse, we are locked in a bitter battle that must be fought. Sooner or later, you will have to take a stand.
The battle goes on, not just because there's something wrong with this country — although there is something very wrong with this country. The battle continues because, from time to time, it simply must be fought. We are not only stuck with each other, we are also stuck in history. This is the heavy price that accompanies living in a democracy. We are required to decide not only how much government is good governance. We are also contesting two very different visions of this country — individualism vs. the common good — and those visions must, at some point, be reconciled.
Last night's election, I'm guessing, failed to do so, which means the battle continues.
I wish I could be more comforting, but we don't have a choice. In a democracy, you don't get the luxury of becoming complacent. If you do, you pay an even heavier price for letting others make decisions for you. The more disengaged citizens we have, the worse things get. There is no way around it.
As the Eagles once put it in "Hotel California": You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
If you're close to despair this morning, wondering how things are ever going to get better in this country, look in the mirror and ask yourself, "How good a citizen am I?" Then take a break, get some rest — and when you're ready, get back in the fray. Your country needs you.
On this, the morning after the election of 2012, as you look around and assess the aftermath, regardless of the outcome (or lack thereof), there is good news and bad news, but I'll leave you with the good news (which may also be the bad news):
We're all in this together.
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