Watching the proceedings of the Republican National Convention last week and this week’s Democratic National Convention, I couldn’t help but notice that each party viscerally understands — well, their leadership, at least — that come November, unity is going to figure prominently in who ends up winning the White House. That’s why Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the vanquished Republican candidate, was under so much pressure to endorse businessman Donald Trump from the stage at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena and why he received so much ridicule when he ultimately refused to do so.
It’s also why Democratic leaders abruptly shifted Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the vanquished standard bearer of their party’s left wing, to the last speaking slot Monday night in Philadelphia. But whereas in his speech, Cruz urged GOP voters to “vote your conscience,” Sanders, to a raucous chorus of “Bernie! Bernie,” used the closing speech of the convention’s first day to tell his millions of supporters nationwide — and the thousands bedecked in Bernie shirts at the Wells Fargo Center — to cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.
History shows that those parties who cannot unify their bases ultimately go on to lose on Election Day, whether it was the Democrats in 1968, 1972 and 1980 or the Republicans in 1964, 1976 and 1992. But what happens after Inauguration Day?
For all the rhetoric centered on “unity” coming out of each party’s convention this month, there was a lot more about demonizing the other side. That, of course, is to be expected; politics, after all, is a full contact sport. But there seems to be another current in the debates taking place online, in coffee shops, in the local checkout line, on the pages of this very publication. Many of the Democrats this week called Trump and his policies “evil,” while Trump and his surrogates have been leading supporters in chants of “lock her up.” Slinging mud at the candidate is nothing new; what is, however, is the willingness of rank-and-file partisans — the volunteers, the newshounds, the spirited voters whose choices on Election Day were made up months ago — to dehumanize their fellow citizens backing the other candidate.
We now live in an age when the neighbor you used to invite over for dinner is now persona non grata in your house because of his political views. Such passion may feel warranted because of what’s at stake in this election — and there is a lot at stake — but after the final vote gets counted, we’re all going to have to come back together. No matter what you think about Trump or Clinton, one of them will end up becoming the 45th president of the United States.
America’s greatness has always rested in part on the ability of the country to experience a peaceful transition in its government, in the ability of the nation to find common ground in the quest for economic prosperity. But it’s going to be awfully hard to get anything of consequence done if we’ve already written off our fellow Americans as the embodiment of evil.
In the weeks ahead, you’ll read of ordinary voters like yourself grappling with the choice before them. We’re keeping the debate civil on purpose. I urge all of you to do the same.
Joshua Runyan is the editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media. He can be reached at [email protected]