Healing After an Ugly Election

Flipping through television channels and Internet tabs on election night, I caught a few seconds of NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw speaking about the state of the country. With a solemn gravity that was striking amidst the evening’s frenetic atmosphere, Brokaw spoke to the deep fractures underlying today’s American political culture.

Brokaw delivered a similar message when he spoke at MSU more than 18 months ago. At the time, his broad national narrative seemed banal, but last night it hit home for me.

Nowhere are our society’s current rifts more evident than in Montana. Our state’s races were exceptionally contentious across the board (for results, see pg. 4), and several were downright ugly. As everyone who has seen a TV ad, read a newspaper or received a mailed pamphlet knows, the residents of Montana have endured a hideous campaign season.

Though we may be tempted to blame the shameless mudslinging on politicians, super-PACS, outside groups or the media, we must also be careful that the partisan bitterness does not slip into our individual attitudes.

Unfortunately, the social media universe exploded Tuesday night with partisan jubilation, dismay, name-calling and prayer. Some were even measuring the election by how many annoying people they had “unfriended” or “unfollowed.”

But let’s be real: President Obama does not have a mandate for his agenda, nor do Montana’s victorious lawmakers. When disgruntled voters threaten to move to Canada, they are abandoning the greatest challenge of democracy. And the joke is on anyone who dismisses 50 million voters as “ignorant.”

It’s easy to forget that neither Obama nor Romney, Tester nor Rehberg, Bullock nor Hill, Daines nor Gillan possess the skeleton key to the challenges of our time. But if Tuesday’s election results revealed anything, it’s that Americans do not see a clear path for the nation’s future success.

What matters most — more than who won the election — is that we, collectively, work harder than we have before to diffuse the animosity which has swollen over the past year. That, it seems, is Brokaw’s challenge for our generation.

We must do more than pray for our nation’s security. We must be willing to work alongside those with whom we disagree, not to placate, but because both have something important to offer. Our first step is to realize the ideologies we propound are always upset by the complexity and immensity of the problems we face.

With Montana’s incoming lawmakers scheduled to meet in January, the real work of politics is now on the horizon. But while we turn our attention to the struggles ahead, we must also take this time to heal.

Editor’s note: The Exponent participated in the National College Media Convention, the largest of its kind, in Chicago last week. At the event, the paper received two best-in-show awards:

— 2nd place, website (school enrollment 10-20,000) for msuexponent.com
— 5th place overall, special section, for our Oct. 25 Edition on Montana’s elections

These awards recognize what I in a sense already knew: I have the unique privilege of working alongside the best (and largest) group of student-journalists the organization has ever seen. They together have put the Exponent on track to becoming one of the top college newspapers in the country.

We rebuilt our website from scratch last summer, and our elections edition marked an effort by more than 50 staff members. Fred Vollmer and Tina Smith deserve particular congratulations for the website, as well as Sabre Moore, Kristen Ingman, Colin Gaiser, Vanessa Naive and Joshua Botz for the special edition. I couldn’t be prouder of my team.