Cindy McCain and Heidi Heitkamp: Bring America together now (Opinion)


The victory of our new President-elect, Joe Biden, created a palpable sense of relief for us and over 80 million other Americans. However, while much of the country rejoices, others are filled with resignation and even rage. These divergent reactions reveal an important truth—that the rift in our politics runs deeper than Donald Trump. We must reinvest in our civic culture if we hope to move forward together.
There are always hard feelings at the end of a campaign; we are both too familiar with that. However, even after contentious races, like the 2000 contest that went to the Supreme Court, the American people have ultimately been able to acknowledge the outcome and proceed with the business of the country. We remember Sen. John McCain’s speech to the nation in 2008 after conceding to then Sen. Barack Obama.

He said: “I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our goodwill and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises, to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.”

This moment feels dangerously different. Partisan differences have become personal, with the Public Religion Research Institute finding 8 in 10 Republicans believe the Democratic Party has been taken over by socialists, while 8 in 10 Democrats believe the Republican Party has been taken over by racists. So many Americans appear to see those who disagree with them as an existential threat.
Why Republicans still refuse to accept Trump's defeat
The scope of this rift is daunting; repairing it will be a challenge requiring courage and commitment. President-elect Biden got off to a good start, calling for Americans to “lower the temperature,” listen to each other, and stop treating each other as enemies. At the Renew Democracy Initiative and the McCain Institute, we are working across the country and the aisle by holding discussions like our recent online conversation on restoring civic duty and civility to find solutions. For starters, we believe that there are three areas of respect that all Americans should observe.
First, respect the results of the election. There are no credible claims of voter fraud, and leading election security officials have been clear that there is no evidence of the 2020 election being compromised. They include Christopher Krebs, who led the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, only to be fired by President Trump for his comments affirming this. Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, has also come under fire from his own party because he stated repeatedly that there was no evidence of election malfeasance.
Yet only a handful of elected Republicans have congratulated President-elect Biden, while many others have humored the President, some giving credence to his insinuations of foul play, or simply remaining silent. Some polls suggest that more than half of Republicans believe the election was rigged.

This behavior must stop. It is absolutely essential that those in power publicly respect the legitimacy of the outcome. Here, Americans can help their elected officials grow a backbone by calling them and telling them to honor the will of the people. It’s what patriots like the late Sen. McCain would have done.

Second, respect those who voted differently. We are not naïve about how difficult it will be to move past the divisiveness fomented by President Trump, nor are we arguing that abhorrent beliefs on issues like race must simply be accepted. However, no matter who you voted for, more than 70 million Americans made a different choice. If we are to heal and progress as a nation, these voters cannot all be simply written off.

The reason we know it's about to get better
We can draw inspiration from President Abraham Lincoln’s famous call for “malice toward none; with charity for all; … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace, among ourselves” as we strive to connect with each other. Effectively reaching out to and listening to people who disagree is not as far-fetched as it may sound. In a study conducted last year—dubbed “America in One Room”—researchers assembled representative voters for four days and asked them to simply talk politely to each other about politics. While minds were not changed overnight, participants felt warmer toward those on the other side, seeing them as friends with whom they happen to disagree.

Seeing each other as people instead of partisans is a critical step to working with one another to overcome our shared struggles. An idea, or a project, that would bring people from different backgrounds together in common purpose, like a national year of service, for example, could also help to break down some of our misperceptions about each other.

Finally, we must respect the need to move forward. The great gift of our democracy has been that we can disagree on significant issues and still live in peace. In the face of a pandemic that has already claimed more than 280,000 of our neighbors, we need a functional government, not a Congress wracked by polarization. Win-at-all costs politics has caused us to rack up a staggering national debt, punt on badly needed reforms and erode the independence of the judiciary. In this moment, our leaders must find a way to have honest disagreements while governing constructively.

In many ways, party preference has moved beyond the realm of political affiliation to personal identity. That is a challenge that will last beyond January 20, 2021—Inauguration Day—and one that we must address if we are ultimately to care for and keep our republic.

We must commit to rediscovering respect for one another and renewing our civic spirit.



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