We live in troubled times. Perhaps this is a truth we’ve known for some time; perhaps only recently have we realized the extent of this truth. Regardless of the timing of our knowledge, it’s hard to deny this fact in light of our recent presidential election.
In a campaign year that brought criticisms of both presidential candidates, many people have been wondering how our political situation and our identities as American citizens have gotten to such a point.
The election – regardless of the candidate for which individuals voted – brought to light a clear sense of the division within our country. Regardless of the election’s outcome, no matter which candidate had won, protests would have happened.
We are a country deeply divided.
As I faced my students on Wednesday, the day after the election, I remembered that I was teaching, primarily, freshmen. Many in the room were first-time voters.
Their first experience of an election that should showcase the dignity and honor that comes with the presidential office was overshadowed by a display of middle-school level immaturity, carelessness of proof and evidence of plagiarism.
Struck by that realization, I recalled my own first time filling in the circle on my ballot and the sense of excitement that I had, thinking of the importance of my vote.
I was therefore astounded to hear that, for this election, voter turnout dipped to its lowest point in the last two decades. A little more than half of voting-age Americans took part in the general election.
This is a disappointing view of our America. How do we invoke a sense of the importance of the presidential office when the world around us has denigrated it as a spectacle?
Perhaps the highest point of this 2016 election came in the speeches following the race to 270 electoral votes.
Despite the mudslinging and vitriolic speech spouted by both candidates throughout their campaigns, the rhetoric of both the victory and concession speeches surprised me by their message of reconciliation. Trump mentioned the importance of moving forward by healing the “wounds of division.” Hillary Clinton asked for an “open mind” that would allow our future president to lead.
This is truly the way forward: a sense of openness and awareness of the division within our nation, as well as an understanding of the immensity of that division.
What should happen is not protest and rioting as we have witnessed following the election, but a coming together to listen and understand how to breach the divide.
Here, as in all things, we as Catholics have an example in the Gospel message. In Luke 12: 51-53, Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother.”
Here, Jesus predicts the very divisiveness that has become our sense of American identity.
But what is he saying? He tells those gathered that following him will not be easy because the Gospel will not always bring peace.
Jesus is not one for sugar-coating the truth. The problem lies not in the division itself, but rather, in our response to the divisions that happen in our lives.
This is the message that I chose to address in my classroom: How will we respond to the division that has been illuminated in our country?
Will we continue to ignore it? Or will we respond in the manner that both of our candidates asked: openness and dialogue, a coming together to heal the wounds?
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.