By Hal Knight
The presidential campaign has taken an enormous toll. We were already a nation divided—now that division has become a chasm. Pre-existing conditions threatening the health of American society were not cured but worsened, were not alleviated but inflamed. It will take a long time for the wounds to heal.
My concern is not about issues and policies, as important as these are. It is about the impact of this campaign upon how we see ourselves and others. For some time the different problems faced by many Americans have been ignored or trivialized by others, and the election has only made matters worse. Let me give two examples.
One group of Americans are, roughly speaking, centered in rural areas and blue-collar communities. The problems afflicting them have been going on for decades but became much worse after the Great Recession. What they are facing is most visible in closed shops along main streets and padlocked gates of empty factory buildings. What is not visible but all too real is the loss of dignity that comes with unemployment or lowered wages; the impact on their families and hopes for the future; the decline of their communities and neighborhoods; and the loss of a way of life that may have stretched back for generations. There is grief, depression, and yes, anger. They know they are not only being ignored by others who are doing well in the new economy but for many are the object of condescension or disdain.
There is another group of Americans, quite diverse, centered in cities but found just about everywhere. Some are longer-term residents for whom America is home, for others more recently arrived it is the land of opportunity or a place of refuge. But there have always been currents in our society who have not welcomed persons who were different from them. This campaign had emboldened those elements. There has been an upsurge in graffiti, vandalism and acts of intimidation against African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Muslims and Jews. Most heartbreaking are the stories of Hispanic children taunted by their peers with “Build the wall,” or adopted children from Africa being told to “get out of our country” and “go home.” There is a climate of fear and anxiety that extends beyond racial, ethnic and religious minorities to victims of assault, persons with disabilities, and parents with children who have pre-existing medical conditions.
Rarely has a political campaign produced such bitter division.
In my August article I quoted John Wesley’s words in “On Visiting the Sick,” where he said “one great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they so seldom visit them. Hence . . . one part of the world does not know what the other suffers . . . they keep out of the way of knowing it—and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.” In America today, different parts of our nation do not know what other parts suffer. Our calling is not to mirror our culture but the kingdom of God. May God enable us to truly listen, truly care and be agents of reconciliation in the days ahead.