Four years ago we opened our post-election editorial, as we do now, with a quote from President Thomas Jefferson from his first inaugural address on March 4, 1801: “But every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called, by different names, brethren of the same principle.”
During his 2008 victory speech President-elect Obama, more than 200 years later, recast Jefferson’s sentiment using the election map visual with which we are now all familiar: “… we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are, and always will be, the United States of America.”
Jefferson’s and Obama’s words seem less than convincing now, less able to soothe the divisions among us; because America does seem divided at this moment, not just by opinion but by principle.
How else should we see the split among those who believe a serious effort against the coronavirus pandemic — and its economic harms — are necessary and those who continue to doubt its dangers or have legitimate concerns about the sacrifices forced on school kids, families and small businesses?
Similarly, where do the brethren of principle meet when those who fear the slow-motion train wreck of climate change and know we must begin to implement a range of responses now cannot find common ground with those who either deny the evidence or hold that the price demanded to slow climate change’s effects is too great and demands too many concessions to how we live our lives?
Choose nearly any issue — immigration, spending on national defense or social programs, health care, fair taxation, even how we are represented by those we elect — and we can’t seem to find agreement on basic principles — on the outcomes we want — much less on how to achieve those principles.
Those raw divisions have been further exposed over the last four years and aggravated during a contentious presidential campaign, divisions that will not magically heal at the conclusion of the election, even with every ballot counted and a winner declared between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
As most readers wake this morning — or simply get out of bed without having slept much — they may be finding news that mostly satisfies them or profoundly disappoints them. (The third possibility, of course, is that the outcome of the presidential election still is too close to call, with some states still counting ballots for an undetermined period, in which case we will live with the gnawing uncertainty for a while longer.)
Evan as this editorial board still holds that Biden will — or would have been — the most capable to help guide the nation as the fight continues against the pandemic and other issues, the truth is that the election of either Trump or Biden, itself, is not going to resolve the nation’s most pressing problems. Nor will partisan control of the Senate or House determine success or failure in beating back covid or any of the challenges we face.
Ultimately, resolution of covid, climate change, economic recovery and more depend — as such issues always have — on us: individual Americans, Jefferson’s brethren of the same principle. And that will require Americans to shelve their preference for easy outcomes that ignore the concerns of those with whom they disagree. We have to listen. We can’t easily disregard the concerns of others. We have to be willing to consider solutions we have previously dismissed. And we have to find agreement on facts, on statistics and on evidence.
How we confront the pandemic shows what that can look like:
While we ask our neighbors to mask up and continue to socially distance, we also have to listen to concerns about how we resume our workdays and our children’s educations in their schools. To do that safely we must convince Congress — regardless of which party is in control — to adopt a pandemic relief package that allows for more testing and contact tracing, helps schools fund the improvements needed to keep children safe and assists the nation’s child care providers.
At the same time that package can extend more aid to small businesses and employers and to the unemployed, not only to help them pay their bills, but to keep money flowing throughout local economies. To avoid an uncontrollable wave of homelessness, moratoriums on evictions must continue, but more aid for rent and support for landlords must be provided at the same time.
As of Tuesday night, as the polls closed on the West Coast and with more ballots to be counted in the coming days, the outcome of the presidential and other races could remain uncertain for some time.
What is certain is that — as important and irreplaceable as elections are to moving our democracy forward — we have to find our solutions in the agreement of our principles. That work begins now.