Today – if not at some time in the past several weeks – voters will have their say.
Tomorrow, they want to wake up to a different political climate. When they get up, they will want to know who won, and they will want the decision to have been made by citizens at the polls, not by arguments in the courts.
They will want to be able to trust that money did not buy political power – even though they know better. They will want to believe that hatred and lies did not win the day. They will want to believe that partisan divisiveness will give way to a willingness to use the best ideas and hire the best people.
Perhaps more than any of those desires, they will want this destructive season to be over, the next one to be different, and the time in between devoted to doing what is right and good for all, not what is politically expedient.
Dream on, because tomorrow is not going to be the day everything changes. Too much rides on keeping the political system exactly the way it is.
But do not stop dreaming, and do not stop working for change, because power does rest with the citizens of the United States of America.
They can vow to listen only to what candidates have to say about themselves, not to candidates’ slurs about their opponents and not to all the shrill voices trying to drown out candidates. When a candidate begins to say, “My opponent would ... ,” they can turn their backs and walk away, turn off the television, throw away the mailers unread.
They can ask hard questions about the issues that matter to them and they can ally themselves with others asking the same questions, until candidates see no benefit in waffling. They can push candidates to be consistent – consistently honest, even – rather than tailoring their message so carefully for each audience that the truth is lost. They can point out reversals, and flip-flops and failures, and they can count all those as debits against a candidate’s credibility.
They can quit rewarding lies. They can say to candidates, “Your politics align closely with mine, but I will not be a party to this kind of campaigning.”
They can recognize that money flowing into a campaign from outside – outside the district, the state, the nation – probably flows from someone with a different agenda than theirs. They can acknowledge that when a campaign for a state House of Representatives seat from a small, rural district costs more than $1 million, something is wrong.
They can insist that when every single elected official does what is right, good government results in ways that are more important than which party controls what offices.
The United States of America prides itself on its form of government. This nation’s people pride themselves on not succumbing to the corruption that has infested so many other governments and political systems. They must, then, act in ways that reward honesty and decency and that punish corruption and manipulation. They must look past the fierce drive for short-term gain by opposing political parties and envision a government intended to serve all, not just half the population at any given time.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln ended his inaugural address in this way:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
We are still waiting, but we are not giving up.