First, a couple of facts to establish the status of things as I write this - because who knows what may change down the road. And, if only for my own sanity, it may be curious to look back upon this four years from now.
At the time I write this (almost a week after the election), if things stand then President-elect Trump will receive 306 electoral college votes to 232 for Hillary Clinton, and with a margin of 30 states carried to her 20. Depending on which source you find the popular vote totals vary and are in great dispute, but I tend to find the most credible do show that Clinton carried the overall popular vote by a small margin.
Interestingly, most sources state that voter turnout was LOWER this election than in 2012 and 2008. I find this curious, as myself and other commenters nationwide observed longer lines than any prior election, and with the online rhetoric I would have expected it to be higher. However - there always remains the possibility that many voters stayed home, particularly in states where the perception was the results were a foregone conclusion.
Despite allegations of voter fraud and vote tampering prior to the election and with voting machines during, as of this point no significant, factual data has come out showing this to be a major factor for either candidate.
There is no doubt that this was one of the most bitter, divisive campaigns in our history. I know for many people (myself included), it was as much, if not more, a case of voting against a particular candidate, rather than for one you believed in. In some cases this even seemed to outshine long-held party affiliations, which had effects on both sides. Additionally, even more so than the famous "Dewey Defeats Truman" headlines of a half-century ago, the Trump victory seemed to come as a shock to many in the establishment, media, and half of the populace of our nation.
Which has led to the issues at hand now. Protests from those who feel that Clinton should have won, or that refuse to acknowledge President-elect Trump. Calls and petitions for the electoral college system to be scrapped. Even though this is precisely the type of situation which the founders intended it for. Since, as many seem to have forgotten, we do not live in a democracy, but a representative republic. And, the electoral college is intended to prevent the "rule by the masses" of the more populated regions running roughshod over more rural localities.
Two maps which have been making the rounds bring this issue further into focus:
Half of the US population lives within the blue shaded portions of this map. In other words, this fraction of the nation has over 175 million people who could disportionately influence the way in which the remainder of this map is governed.
Interestingly, this map reflects the election results by county, as opposed to the earlier statewide totals. You'll note, that while there are some outliers, those same high-population counties are reflected as overwhelmingly voting for Hillary Clinton (and are traditionally Democratic-leaning locales).
Now, none of this is anything most intelligent readers haven't already noticed. But I wanted to establish the background for my thoughts. Because it is the aftermath of the election which concerns me.
In my own voting lifetime, I remember when politics and open discussion still co-existed. When someone could have an opposing viewpoint, but you could still hold an intelligent conversation and even be *gasp* friends. When, after an election, people accepted who won and loss, picked themselves up, and more or less moved forward as a nation. Sure, Reagan was despised by the Democrats (although that seems to be forgotten now), but at least the discourse was generally civil. I was far from a fan of the Clinton presidency, but I don't recall having to worry about my safety or the ability to do business or interact with those who were. Now? We get not only the protests, the calls for the system to be re-built because people don't like the results, but we get things like this (NSFW language warning):
Really? This is what the party which was worried about being inclusive, and didn't want "hateful" speech involved is putting out? Riots and destroying property and attacking people who didn't vote the way you like is now the way to get the system to change?
Because, that is what I'm used to seeing in third world countries, not in the United States.
Now, there are plenty of people already pointing fingers in either direction on events such as these. I'm not going to repeat the same stuff.
Because the issue is deeper than that.
I feel we really have become two nations, as the above maps reflect. One, primarily urban, in favor of more government and generally more liberal in outlook; the other, "flyover country," with relatively conservative values and politically wanting less interference from a Federal overlord. As far as parties (a pox be on the lot of them), generally Democratic and Republican majorities respectively.
This separation of outlooks is nothing new, really - in fact, it is part of what led to the electoral college system, as well as the House of Representatives/Senate structuring of our Constitution. We've certainly faced divided results before in this nation, and have made it through them.
The difference now isn't the divide, so much, as the resulting anger, frustration, and general pig-headedness on either side. In the space of a generation we've gone from having a large group of "undecided" voters for each party to woo, and a (generally) centerist agenda as a whole, to pendulum swings between right and left. From intelligent debate and reasoned thinking we have moved to 30 second sound clips and 140-character brain diarrhea. From a view of our neighbors as "fellow Americans," we now default to hate and disdain for those who don't agree with our views.
A number of things have influenced this, but I really think there are three main factors.
One is the information age itself. With each stride forward in technology we are innundated with more data; each candidate now finds their thoughts, deeds, and every word instantly shared worldwide. Not only does this lead to information overload, but it becomes impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff - every rumor takes on a life of its own, and takes root before it can be proven or refuted. Not only do the parties and candidates take advantage of it, but we ourselves encourage the monster... And, like anything else, you get too much of a good thing, and people lose the ability to discern what is important and valuable in all the noise.
The second is the media machine. While in this election it was far more blatant and biased than others, it is far from a new thing. Journalists (of every persuasion) now view themselves as important parts of the political influence machine; that it is their job to present the information so as to best support the appropriate "message." The Fourth Estate has become firmly entrenched in the process, and like the priests of old feel they are the only intermediary between the common man and the holy writ of doctrine.
Finally, there are the parties themselves.
Whether Republican or Democrat, both groups have long since given up any interest in truly representing their constituents, and instead are firmly focused on maintaining power and position at any cost. Politicians spend the vast majority of their time campaigning to stay in office as opposed to actually doing the job they were elected for. Promises to "change the system" or press for reform of any nature quickly are forgotten in D.C., where it's business as usual and don't rock the boat. We have developed a class of career politicians who feel entitled to the trappings and benefits of their station, and know better than the commoners what is right and wrong. While the third party option is an admirable idea, the failure of mainstream America to consider such possibilities leaves little hope for the near term potential.
President Washington was right when he warned of the danger of political parties.
I have probably another five paragraphs I could rant on that issue, but I'm not saying anything that's not clear to any intelligent person.
Instead, it's back to the root question - and it isn't based on the results of this election, but rather on the symptoms increasingly on display. The sickness, for want of a better word, which has infected America as a whole and driven us apart rather than pulling us together.
Because we are divided, at a level we haven't seen since probably 1860 - and we all know how that turned out. Urban America doesn't want to find common ground with their rural relations, and small-town America has no interest in the globalism and agenda of the east and west coast. Each side stridently protests the intrusions of the other upon what they view as how America should be.
It's not just that we have people threatening to leave the country because their side lost - it's that we have others saying "good riddence."
It's not that thousands of people are seriously petitioning that California should secede from the Union, but that equal numbers (if not more) would be happy to see them leave.
None of this even remotely addresses the outside issues facing us, nor their influences upon our nation and politics.
It's that both sides are more than happy to ignore the Constitution, to call for changes in our political process when it's to their benefit. Whether abolishing the electoral college, using (or removing) the filibuster, appointing or ignoring Supreme Court Justices, or any of the myriad ways people think "if we just had a little more power, then we could finally make things right."
Because, despite their protestations of equality, the left side is convinced that there is something fundamentally wrong and unacceptable about the right. Despite their words of "less government" the right is more than willing to allow the Federal system to regulate people's reproductive choices and other beliefs. Between one side pandering to anarchists and social justice warriors, and the other embracing the evangelicals and ultra-nationalists there is not much of a "middle ground" to be found.
I fear we are approaching a tipping point in our nation, from which we will be unable to recover our balance. While I have hope that President-elect Trump will be able to delay some of this, I do not forsee a reversal of course. Proposals such as term-limits would go a long way towards proving me wrong, but the very people who must vote to impose them have a vested interest in not doing so. Additionally, despite his statements attempting to reach out to all Americans, I think President-elect Trump will face an even more hostile media and left-wing than President G.W. Bush did.
The next four years will prove me right or wrong. If we cannot come together in that time, no matter where you are in the political spectrum, I truly think we will be torn apart.