The election is over, but what do we do now?

‘There is no middle ground on which to stand anymore. You are either for or against, with no fraternization permitted. The time when reasonable people could disagree reasonably seems long gone.’

BRATTLEBORO — On our most recent walk, my wife and I passed by the house of one of our neighbors, whom we have known for about seven years. We have gotten to know them fairly well over the years, we have met their grown children, and we have had pleasant conversations and interactions.

This time our walk was different. Outside their house was a MAGA flag.

In all our years knowing them, there may have been a hint of their political leanings, but I didn't notice. They always seemed like rational, good-natured people.

My wife and I were both left speechless at first. We looked at each other and, for the rest of the walk, we reviewed our experience with this couple to see if we had missed something that would have indicated either their recent conversion to or longstanding allegiance with the unhinged politics of the current White House resident.

* * *

I am still puzzled by this new insight into these neighbors.

How do I deal with the fact that I now know they are aligned with the politics of caging children, supporting white supremacy, alienating our foreign allies, and giving tax cuts to billionaire corporations at the expense of people who are vulnerable?

How will I endure those who support whatever policy is established by someone who has totally been at war with any traditional democratic or party principles after reelection?

This puzzlement contributes to my trying to plan how I might respond to this new and telling bit of information.

Should I broach this bold political statement the next time I see them? By flying the MAGA flag in this Land of Sanders, isn't our neighbor intentionally stirring the pot?

Since the election of the current president, my yearnings - compounded by the pandemic - have been not only to return to a normal healthy state from our current pandemic conditions, but to return to a normal state where conversations over coffee with our friends are about children, grandchildren, or which bulbs to plant to get ready for next spring, and not about the confounding machinations of the chief executive of our government.

* * *

A good part of my reflection stems from the current state of tribalism that pervades all political discourse, in my opinion, much fueled by the divisive statements and actions of our current White House resident. There is no middle ground on which to stand anymore. You are either for or against, with no fraternization permitted. The time when reasonable people could disagree reasonably seems long gone.

I have always considered myself somewhat politically independent. I don't see the need to perpetually align myself with one party or the other. In my 70-plus years on the planet, I have seen enough to know that there is no perfect government, policy, or politician and that expectations of such will always be disappointing.

Winston Churchill said that democracy is a messy business, and that a characteristic of Americans is a naïve, sometimes-unwitting, optimistic exceptionalism that we can find the answer to any problem if we just bear down, work together, and get on with it. I consider myself belonging to the optimistic party.

I have never shied away from a robust, friendly dialogue about the state of our union, and I enjoy going up against well-informed opponents, as we both learn from each other and sharpen our thinking after a good debate.

In theory, I have no problems with traditional Republican principles of government. I just disagree with many, though not all of them.

However, I do have serious issues with the current White House incumbent who calls himself a Republican, and anyone who supports him.

I am tired of hearing from those who claim to be less-than-staunch supporters and say we must separate the bluster and bombast from the results. Process matters as much as, if not more so than, results.

In our democracy, the rule of law is a process enshrined in our Constitution. It is hard to imagine a fair result without a fair process managed by a fair person in charge. Leadership matters. A lot!

* * *

So, I am faced with the personal challenge of trying to understand my neighbor in a way that challenges many of my longstanding beliefs about friendship, leadership, government, and the future of our democracy and planet.

What do I do? Has my neighbor become suddenly misguided? Does he lack the information or empathy and understanding that might lead him to a different conclusion and choose a different path? Is it my job to educate him?

Or in the future, do I just choose to ignore politics and talk about our children, grandchildren, and what bulbs we might plant to get ready for next spring?

Right now, I just don't know.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates