Election is time to rise above our differences

IN AN election year where the stakes could not be higher, it is imperative that every eligible American vote.

Across the country, millions of voters already have cast their ballots, and more than 20,000 people across the region have voted early in the past month. As a nation, however, a lack of civic engagement is one of many factors that has led to dismal voter turnout in recent elections, even as it has become easier than ever to vote.

Analysis by the University of California-Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project finds that turnout of the voting age population in a presidential election has not topped 60% since 1968. That looks to change in 2020.

Still, too few people are engaged in the political process.

We believe a large part of this is rooted in a growing belief by many that those who do not agree with their political beliefs are not just wrong but enemies to our nation. The unwillingness to engage in sensible, civil dialogue has led many would-be voters to simply walk away from the conversation.

This is unacceptable.

We will not pretend that political division or acrimonious campaigns are something new in this country. In 1800, the presidential election saw a candidate who believed in a limited role for the federal government challenge a candidate touting a stronger federal role but who was outflanked by many in his own party who believed his policy views didn’t go far enough. The campaign was highly personal and fought largely in the press.

Sound familiar?

Thomas Jefferson won that election, defeating Federalist incumbent John Adams.

Of course, that is not the only election that has seen great division in the country. During the 1850s, the nation saw a rift over slavery deepen to the point that, following Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860, seven slave states declared their secession from the U.S. before he could take office. Other states soon joined, and the nation became embroiled in the Civil War, our country’s darkest hour.

There are extremists now from both ends of the political spectrum who espouse violence to achieve their political goals. We must not let this happen.

We encourage you to look at your friends and neighbors. None of them agree with you entirely on any political issue. The differences may be quite vast in some cases. But these are the same people who help members of their community in times of need. Who bring blankets and clothes to victims of fires and floods. Who buy tickets to spaghetti dinner fundraisers and pack local gymnasiums and stadiums to support athletic teams. Who attend church with you. Who wave when they pass you on the street and who ask how your kids and grandkids are doing.

None of them is an enemy to our country. In fact, this common bond is the best part of our nation.

If you follow the current state of affairs to its worst possible conclusion, would you want to see them hurt? Or something far more unthinkable? We hope this is not a question you have to think long about.

It is not our aim to tell you how to vote in this year’s presidential election. Even if we did, we doubt it would change anyone’s minds. What we will do is urge you to remember that Donald Trump and Joe Biden are temporary players in a centuries-long American saga. God willing, our nation will go on long after both have exited the scene. But only if Americans remember the common bonds of humanity that connect us and work harder to strengthen them than those forces who would tear us apart.

One last note about that election of 1800: Afterward, Jefferson and Adams would not speak for 12 years. When they remembered their connection, a bond forged in the American struggle for independence decades earlier, they were able to look past their political differences and share that connection again. They exchanged more than 100 letters over the next several years, a remarkable testament to the strength of the American bond.

They both died — hours apart — on July 4, 1826.

Please, do your civic duty and vote.

And when casting your ballot and in the wake of an election that will surely leave many Americans wounded that their candidate didn’t win, ask yourself, “Wouldn’t we all be much better off if we could set aside political differences and work together?”

We hope this, too, is not a question you have to think long about.

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