A post-election reflection:
On Tuesday morning, November 8, 2016, I walked into my polling place, a one-room airport building down in Pence Springs. Election campaign coverage all but monopolized the news in this country for the last year and a half, and somehow, I reacted to the first two names on the ballot with fresh emotion: Wonder, foremost, because I never expected Donald Trump to make it so close to the White House and because you don’t have to agree with Hillary Clinton to marvel at a woman’s name appearing as a party’s nominee for president of the United States.
I didn’t take the decision of how to vote lightly and was very grateful for The United States Council of Catholic Bishops’ 2016 document, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship. I read the document because a priest said to, but I was pleasantly surprised to find helpful information not just in the context of voting, but for public living in general. It is an excellent refresher on Catholic Social Teaching and the ways it applies to policy issues in the U.S. specifically. It is succinct and straightforward without oversimplifying our political landscape. Reading the main concerns of the U.S. Catholic Church side by side I found to be particularly refreshing, since we can be so polarized on political issues even within the Church.
I can only imagine the array of emotions Americans felt early that Wednesday morning as the election was finalized, ranging from excitement, exhilaration, and relief on one end to confusion, sadness, and fear on the other. I certainly felt a mix of overwhelming emotions, but a clear theme to me regarding voters on both sides of the election was the extent to which many people are feeling ignored and hurt. I think a lot of Americans are scared, hurt, and wanting change, even if for very different reasons.
In this time of heightened division in our nation, can we be agents of healing? In such a divisive climate, it’s easy to clump people together and blast “Clinton voters” or “Trump voters,” but now that the election is over, can we drop the name-calling and start listening to each other? There are a lot of reasons for righteous anger in our country, but by dismissing the “other side” and everything “they” are about, aren’t we just getting closer to civil war and further from having a functioning, respectable government?
How can we seek out opportunities to listen to people who think very differently from the way we do? The day after the election, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump called for coming together and overcoming division in the nation. That’s pretty hard to swallow after such bitter campaigning, especially when members of Congress start chiming in who have certainly not been leading the way in fostering a spirit of working together. Yet, Pope Francis also called for unity that day in a tweet: “May we make God’s merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation.”
As we seek out ways to truly listen to people who are different from us, we can stand on the solid ground of Catholic Social Teaching. Listening attentively does not mean passivity or giving up our stances on the problems we are most passionate about. But let’s stick to the issues, drop the stereotyping, and foster dialogue between one another in the months to come. Check out the bishops’ document: