An Election Year Plea

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Well another election season is upon us. But this editorial is not going to encourage you to vote. Nor, certainly, is it intended to discourage you from voting. My unwillingness to do either was shaped by a Political Science professor in college, more than half a century ago. His name was Otto Ulc and he had escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia when it was still part of the Soviet bloc. The professor surprised the class by announcing that in the years since he immigrated, and became an American citizen, he had never voted. He explained that as an elected judge in his prior homeland, he was forced to partake in pre-election parades, and, along with others, pressured to vote — even though there was never anyone else on the ballot. He was in awe that in America he did not have to participate in the election process and saw not doing so as an exercise of his newly found freedom. Believing that what was good for Otto was good for me, despite the fact that I have always voted, I have avoided telling others that they needed to vote.

Similarly, I never tell, or even encourage, others to vote for a particular candidate. I try hard not to influence the choice of others, believing that such matters should reflect each voter’s thoughtful personal choice alone. I do not tell people, whether friends or pollsters, who I intend to vote for, so if you see political signs outside my house you can be assured that they are on my wife’s side of the yard. Believing in the sanctity of the secret ballot I don’t even reveal my choices after the fact (except for telling my wife that I did vote for her on the occasions she was a nominee for the Board of Education).

All this does not mean that this Editor of the Month is wholly devoid of opinions he is willing to share. They pertain to how I think we behave towards each other during these times. I begin by noting that the talking heads who shout that the country has never been so divided are excessively hyperbolic. While I was not alive at the time, I recall reading that we once had a long and bloody civil war. I recall that during revolutionary times a substantial portion of the country remained loyal to the king. Nevertheless, we are clearly more divided and more bombastic than we have ever been in my lifetime. The rhetoric is almost always inflammatory beyond the actual substance of disagreement, and areas of agreement are often overlooked, to our detriment. I think that few disagree that Black Lives Matter, and that racial based excessive force by any policeman is intolerable and must be stopped. But rather focusing on possible solutions to this widely recognized problem based on common grounds, we fight about whether the phrase indicates that only black lives matter (which I, like most African-Americans and BLM supporters, would not agree with), or whether, as I believe, it reflects an understandable need to differentiate the unique, and ongoing problems, faced by Blacks in America.

The reasons for our heightened dissonance are many, and likely affected by the multitude of media outlets focused on fostering a single viewpoint, Twitter (both presidential and others) and changes to how we select candidates, changes that have increased the importance of the far ends of each party rather than centrists. And sadly, it appears clear that both parties find it advantageous, in terms of fundraising and potential turnout, to call the other unreasonable, rather than compromise and govern.

We may not be able to stop such behavior, but we can control our own. We can respect that other good people have views different than our own, and not sneer when your neighbor supports a candidate you cannot stand. We can breathe slowly and assess the unlikely validity of doomsday claims made by either party. We can, if you go to the polls or not, accept that the winner, whether we like him or not, will for the foreseeable future, be our president. By the way we ourselves act, the respect we show for opposing views, by being unwilling to support efforts to silence those whose views differ from ours, we do our part in helping to bring the country together.

Jay Presser, Chairman  

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