The reactions to the recent presidential election in the news and on social media would have you believe that we live in a fiercely divided nation full of passionate political views and even more passionate political action. Protests in the streets, crashing Canadian immigration sites, and the social media atmosphere would have you believe Donald Trump had taken the presidency by force, leading a coup of Klansmen in white hoods over the Potomac.
With protests of varying types being organized and executed all over the country and everyone with a modem chiming in about the use of an electoral college, one would think voter turnout for this election would have to be close to a hundred percent. Sure, a few people may have missed the polls, but with so many people speaking about this election as though it were a matter of life or death, I’d have to assume those who opted out of voting, or perhaps missed their chance, must be the ignorant or uninspired minority.
Which marks the second time I’ve been wrong about how this election would turn out.
A recent CNN article shows that voting in this year’s election actually hit a twenty-year low. In order to find another election that so few voters participated in, we’d have to go back to 1996 when Hillary’s husband, Bill Clinton, ran for reelection against Bob Dole. Current numbers (which are subject to change) show a meager fifty-five percent of eligible voters participated in this year’s presidential election.
Suddenly, protests and riots, Facebook memes and hashtags, crying celebrities and college kids, all mean just a little bit less. America, it would seem, would rather protest after the fact than participate in real time.
Colin Kaepernick made headlines earlier this year by choosing to kneel during the national anthem in protest of the way he felt minorities were being treated in the United States. I won’t pretend to understand or fully appreciate the challenges many young Americans face due to race, religion or sexual orientation, so I won’t dispute Keapernick’s decision to kneel – but I can certainly take issue with the new reason he’s been in the headlines lately: he also didn’t vote.
Keapernick, like many Americans, claims he didn’t particularly like either candidate, but for a man that chose to take such a public and political stance to then simply sit this election out is a perfect representation of the way many Americans dealt with the 2016 election. Men and women on both sides of the aisle and in each of the third parties that find themselves somewhere in between, took to the internet to yell and scream at one another about an election they couldn’t be bothered to actually vote in.
I read your posts, memes and blogs. I saw the signs in your front yards. I believed that for the first time in my life, America’s populous had woken up and had chosen to fight for their ideals and beliefs. Whether yours match up with mine or not, I love the idea of a passionate American fighting for what he or she believes in. I, honestly, didn’t want to see Hillary Clinton win the presidency, and an increased voter turnout likely wouldn’t have changed the course of the election, but I would have settled for a president I didn’t want elected by a country that truly cared, truly believed that what they were doing what was right. Instead, this election was just another celebrity lion killed by a dentist: Facebook fodder.
Objectively, I have no issue with people being upset about the election. We live in the greatest nation on Earth, but it’s certainly not a perfect one. Each American has the right to feel how they feel, and express those feelings in any safe and legal manner they see fit. It becomes difficult for me to justify the left’s response to the election, however, when protests turn to riots, or debates turn to violence.
I try to be a level-headed guy, and although my politics may not align with yours, I truly appreciate and value what each perspective brings to the discussion. I firmly believe that America continues to be the greatest nation on Earth because we all have a seat at the table, and when someone doesn’t, we change. We change slowly, painfully at times, but as each day passes, the subtle shift of culture and perception takes root. If we must be a nation of political extremes, at least the extremes are forced to do business with one another, find a common ground, and move forward.
If you woke up on Tuesday, drove to your local polling location, cast your vote, and are furious with the way this election turned out – I applaud you for playing your part in our society. You have the right to vent, you have the right to grieve, and you have the right to protest if you see fit.
But if you’re fuming about the results of this election, but couldn’t find it in yourself to play a part in it, you don’t deserve to be heard now – you had an opportunity to voice your concerns on a national scale and you ignored it. If you didn’t vote, you sure as hell shouldn’t be protesting.
An as yet undetermined number of people wrote in the name of a dead gorilla on their presidential ballots, but forty-five percent of us couldn’t get around to voting at all.
It isn’t up to our politicians to shape our nation. Donald Trump doesn’t get to reboot the government in his own image, nor will he have the sort of power to ruin our way of life many seem to fear. Our president is an elected official appointed to serve the people, and if he fails at that task, he’ll leave the office behind as bad presidents have before. If you hate the idea of Donald Trump being president, take heart, we’ll get to try this whole process again in four short years. If you end up loving President Trump, you too, will have your chance to tell the world how you feel in that same span of time.
Our nation has survived through civil wars, world wars, revolutions in the way we perceive people of different races, religions, sexual orientations and genders – all through the hard work and passionate beliefs of the American people. Change, though slow and painful at times, can only come about through appropriate action.
Take a deep breath, America. Whether you love or hate the idea of President Trump, he isn’t what defines us as a nation – we are. Stop drawing lines in the sand and start looking for ways we can work together to build a nation we can all be proud of. That starts by participating.
America gave you the freedom to be furious, the right to be heard, and the tools to participate in how our nation is run; but it’s all meaningless if you never leave your couch.
Image courtesy of the European Press Photo Agency