TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Is It Senseless To Seek A Consensus?

It’s been just over one week since Americans went to the polls to elect a president. Somehow, it feels like much longer.

In the hours and days that followed, some have despaired. Others rejoiced. There have been protests in the streets. We should have seen this coming, regardless of the outcome.

For months prior to the election, there were articles from Clinton supporters who couldn’t believe anyone could vote for Trump. Articles from Trump supporters equally miffed that anyone could support Clinton.

Now that Trump has prevailed, one side feels fearful and outraged … the other, defensive and defiant.

I’ve read numerous perspectives on why Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton last Tuesday. And where we’re headed as the new regime assumes power.

Battle lines have been drawn on so many levels. Red vs. Blue. Democrats vs. Republicans. “Liberal Elitists” vs. “Conservative Populists.” Big City vs. Rural.  One side may gloat but is still ultimately forced to defend a candidate with questionable character and a documented history of bigotry. The other has every right to rail at the verdict but must also look in the mirror when examining how we got to this point.

Unfriending on Facebook seems to be all the rage. I’m sure by now you’ve seen the pattern: One friend offers their view and looks for lots of “likes.” Supportive comments may abound initially, only to be interrupted eventually by a contrarian bold enough to invade enemy territory. Civility seldom, if ever, wins out. Insults fly and the name-calling begins. The next thing you know, someone is posting a plea to return to the relative safety of family photos and yummy, new recipes.

Sorry, folks. But that isn’t going to solve anything. At some point, we need to communicate and seek solutions or we’re all in big trouble. In fact, I fear that we’re already there. My wife and I have been married almost 30 years. But I haven’t forgotten those occasional disagreements that first year. Always one to defend my point of view vigorously,  I eventually learned it didn’t do me much good to be “right” if I wound up sleeping on the couch.

Here are some hard facts for all of us to digest. There are approximately 232 million eligible voters in the United States. Roughly 47 percent of them chose not to vote. While Trump easily won the electoral vote to take the election, Clinton appears headed for the larger total in the popular vote. Each candidate collected more than 61 million votes, and numbers are still being counted in a couple of states.

But regardless of those still unofficial final totals, we can safely conclude two things: 1. This was a ridiculously close election. 2. Neither candidate collected even 27 percent of the eligible populace!

That’s hardly a consensus for either side. So instead of boasting or protesting, maybe we should seek common ground.

For starters, it’s OK to disagree, even healthy. But we need to do it with far more respect and patience. I find it ironic that there are so many ways to interact today: Cell phone, Texting, Email, Messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and more.  Yet none of those are really face to face. So it’s easier to be rude or insulting when we can hide behind anonymous tweets in cyberspace. Or collect multiple “Likes” on Facebook by posting controversial takes primarily toward those of like mind. We feel emboldened to be nastier then, when an outsider disagrees.

I’m admittedly a Democrat and voted for Hillary Clinton. But almost from the start, I was sickened by the partisan, win-at-all-costs mentality on both sides. Trump’s insults to other Republican candidates during the primary seemed startling at first. But by the end, they appeared to be so effective that mild-mannered Marco Rubio got desperately down in the ditch with Donald.

Clinton did little to dismiss perceptions that she, too, would do what it takes to get elected. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned amidst charges of favoritism against rival Bernie Sanders. Then with the smell of collusion still in the air, the embattled former chair was immediately picked up by the Clinton campaign.

By late summer, Trump and Clinton had party endorsements and were slinging more mud in head-to-head debates, while conversations around the water cooler had Americans wondering why these were two of the least likable candidates in recent memory.

I’ll tell you why. We’ve condoned and even endorsed, bad behavior. For years I’ve heard complaints about negative political ads. They call it “fear copy.” But they keep on coming because apparently we believe them. Instead of emphasizing one candidate’s strengths over another, slick special interest groups use 30 seconds to tear down the opponent with any trick imaginable. Find one sound bite taken out of context and proclaim the world will end if so and so gets elected. Photoshop a picture. Connect them with someone or something else that has failed.

Name-calling was supposed to end in grade school. Instead, in America, it’s alive and well. “Crooked Hillary.” “Lyin’ Ted.” “Donald Drumpf.” “Old Orange Face.” “Killery.”  Instead of focusing on issues that might help a voter make rational choices, social media is rife with insults. It’s apparently enjoyable to get a few laughs over Clinton’s pant suits or Trump’s sniffling during debates, but it really doesn’t help us choose a president.

In 1968, I was a freshman in high school. Back then, they signed up all the guys for Shop class while the girls got Home Economics. I sang in the choir and enjoyed it in middle school, only to drop out by high school because it didn’t look good for a football player to be singing. How sad is that?

Fast forward to 2016, where we like to believe we’ve made great progress on race, gender and sexual orientation. But it’s still obvious we have a long way to go. Wonder how Donald Trump can become our president, despite a litany of complaints about his mocking of a reporter with a disability, making crude sexual references demeaning of women and that now infamous conversation with Billy Bush back in 2005?

A couple of days ago, I pulled up a story on the Yahoo home page, expressing outrage over an incident in a Michigan school. It concerned Hispanic students feeling threatened by white students chanting, “Build that wall!  Build that wall!”, an obvious reference to Trump’s plan to “guard our borders.” There was another headline that told of young girls being bullied and raped.

Yet on that same page, there was a section labeled “Trending Today,” which is designed to get as many hits as possible. Among the attention-getters:

  • Hot NFL Wives!
  • 17 Actors Who Are Gay (#12 will shock women)
  • Trump’s Leaked IQ Shocks the Nation
  • After Loosing 200 lbs. Rebel Wilson is Actually Gorgeous

For starters, they should lose the extra “o” in “loosing.” But more importantly, those headlines encourage sexism, homophobia and emphasis on physical appearance. Yet somebody knows there’s an audience for that garbage.

It can be subtly prevalent elsewhere, too.  In my men’s bowling league last week, a competitor rolled one into the gutter. “We call that a Hillary!” shouted one of the teammates. “Ugly and far left.” Good for a laugh, sure. But I wondered how well that line would work with a different audience.

On the other side, labels and generalizations can be just as despicable. At one point on election night, an ABC reporter referred to Trump supporters as “uneducated, Budweiser-drinking, rural white men.” Demographics after the race would suggest otherwise. It makes for a nice narrative, but smug Clinton backers need to wake up and look at their candidate’s failure to connect with greater numbers of millennials and minorities. Maybe it had something to do with the white working class feeling ignored, in severely impoverished areas the Dems figured weren’t important enough to pursue.

Donald Trump will take office 65 days from now.  It’s time to end the name-calling and seek solutions, not reasons for division. We need to take more time to understand each other. Here are a few simple suggestions:

1. Stop labeling people. I’ve lived all my life in Minnesota and North Dakota. As a group, Minnesotans have favored a Republican candidate for president only once since 1956. As a group, North Dakotans have favored a Democratic candidate for president only once since 1940. But we’re individuals.  Maybe abandoning the Electoral College is one way to fight that problem, although that’s another debate for another time. Just know that we are all unique and have differences worth embracing.

2. Be more civil.  Name-calling is always easier when the other side isn’t around. But when you choose to label, you may be surprised to discover that not everybody is always on your team.

3.  Seek inclusion, not exclusion. Is it fear or vigilance? Either way, I’d prefer the bridges to the walls.  We can still find ways to protect our nation, our traditions, whatever it is we think is threatened, without spewing racist, homophobic rhetoric that creates division.

4. Read, listen and empathize. Just for a change, check out ALL sources on an issue, not just those that will tell you what you want to hear.  You might actually change your mind occasionally.

5. Encourage debate, don’t hide from it.  Our twins are now 27. Following the election, both took to social media with impassioned opinions on the results. I was proud of them for getting involved in the process, regardless of their views.  But now it’s important that they be ready to respectfully argue their stands, without taking offense at those who might disagree.

The time is now, to make a difference. Those vacation pictures and holiday recipes are always welcomed. But our nation’s problems will still be there if we don’t choose to do something about them.

2 thoughts on “TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Is It Senseless To Seek A Consensus?”

  • D Grinnell November 18, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    Tom is the most authentic, nonjudgemental, kind, gifted writers I have read and known. I hope he continues to share his gifts to the world.

    1. Tom Coyne November 19, 2016 at 10:21 am

      Thanks so much for those nice words!


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