November 12, 2016

The presidential race and the politics of division

Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

There were much more than just candidates for president on the ballot this year. The very values upon which this country was founded were on the ballot. Values like inclusion, equality of opportunity, and equal protection under the law.

For the winning candidate, this presidential campaign was not about public policy, partisanship or even personality. It was about fear. It was about anger. It was about hate. And those three qualities—the qualities that point to a people who have lost their collective soul—were the real winners here.

Among other journalist stints, Sharon Kayne was the managing editor and a columnist for Crosswinds Weekly. Kayne is the communications director for New Mexico Voices for Children, but this blog reflects her personal feelings, rather than those of the organization.

America is a very idealistic nation. Granted, we have not always lived up to those ideals, but I like to think we have not abandoned them either. Now I am not so sure. I am, by turns, sad, angry and afraid. I feel all of these things because a man who campaigned on the politics of division has won election to the highest office in the nation. A man who sought to separate us by our differences will direct the course of this county for the next four years.

Sadly, our idealism—like our nation itself—is rooted in a deep and abiding original sin. The sin of dehumanizing people for our own political purposes. We wanted to settle a continent that was already inhabited. So we made the original inhabitants less than human. We called them savages. Even after we had wrenched political control from our imperial parents, we did not allow the people who had lived here for thousands of years before us to be citizens of this “new” nation.

We wanted free labor—workers without rights or power. So we dehumanized the people we had brought here in chains. We legally rendered them as worth less than a whole human within the very document upon which our government is founded.

We continued the social and political norms of the day of denying half the population the right to vote.

Granted, we have come a long way in ensuring rights for all people. We have, legally at least, nullified some of the darkest and basest framework upon which our power structure was built. But that framework, much of it invisible to the average American, still exists to a greater degree than we would like to admit. In this way our original sin is an ugly specter that we may never be able to put behind us entirely. It seems destined to color our present just as it darkened our past.

It matters not that the president-elect said in his victory speech that he wants to be a “president for all Americans.” Nothing he can say or do once he takes the oath of office can erase the path he took to get there. It was a path of us versus them. A path of assigning scapegoats. A path of mocking and shunning those who are different.

The path taken to victory for this particular presidency will be, in short, the next administration’s original sin. And it will color his tenure as surely as genocide, slavery and subjugation left their indelible and persistent mark on our nation. As a people who espouse higher values and ideals, we should be ashamed.