POINT OF VIEW: The damage being inflicted by this election

This presidential election was initially entertaining, but is now infuriating and ugly. But what will things look like the day after the election?

We should be concerned about the damage that this election is inflicting on our democratic institutions — and focus on how to repair them.

This campaign seems to have been more about the character and fitness of the candidates for the presidency than their ideas for governing the country.

On Dec. 13, 2000, after the most prolonged, and perhaps the most rancorous battle for the presidency in American history, then-Vice President Al Gore came before the nation to announce that:

”Just moments ago, I spoke with George W. Bush and congratulated him on becoming the 43rd president of the United States … I offered to meet with him as soon as possible so that we can start to heal the divisions of the campaign and the contest through which we’ve just passed…. I say to President-elect Bush that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside, and may God bless his stewardship of this country.”

Vice President Gore’s remarks were not surprising. The recognition that, at some point, country is elevated over partisanship had always been part of the partisan battle.

But it is increasingly hard to imagine that the loser of the 2016 presidential election will be saying “I congratulate our president-elect; we need to accept the legitimacy of this election and work with the new administration.”

The fact that this is hard to imagine now is evidence of long-term damage this election is inflicting on our democracy.

And it is getting worse as one candidate whips up his supporters with fears that the election results may be “rigged” and the election stolen. At rallies in Pennsylvania, Trump has urged his supporters to visit polling locations in “certain areas” and make sure no “cheating goes on.”

The media is an easy target for blame, but it is too simplistic to claim that this is all concocted by a mass media that is only interested in selling ad space, building ratings or entertaining its audience. You can’t expect the media to ignore the outrageous claims or embarrassing mistakes that candidates make during their campaigns.

What does this mean for January, when somebody is supposed to get down to the business of governing?

For nearly the entirety of our nation’s history, our democracy has involved the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to those newly elected. Have we turned a corner in American politics, never to recover the “after the people have had their say, it’s country over party” days again or is 2016 an aberration?

A handshake snub at a debate may be the least of our concerns if we have to deal with a greater breakdown of civility when this is all over.


Editor’s note: Howard L. Simon is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

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