Never coming to blows, these two shouted at each other. "Are you a black Israelite?" said the Jesus-banner carrier. Photo by Chris Stone
A confrontation outside Donald Trump’s rally in San Diego in May. Photo by Chris Stone

By Carl Luna, Ken Druck and Neville Billimoria

As Election Day nears, it is time to shift our attention from the damage this campaign has done to our nation and our standing in the world, and focus on what happens after Nov. 8.

The divisive political discourse that has filled our heads and airwaves for the past 18 months has rendered our democracy weaker and less functional than at any time in recent memory. Playing to the lowest common denominator of hatred, distrust and vengeance, we are now at an all-time low.

America faces real risks at home and abroad if we continue to viciously attack our countrymen and women with whom we disagree. It’s time to transmute the daily dose of hatred, vitriol and contentious arguing and shift our attention from throwing fuel on the “Who is more corrupt?” fire to asking, “What exactly are we doing to our country and our children by modeling hatred and spewing vitriol?”

Exercising our right to vote is critical. It’s what makes us a great nation. But civility goes beyond voting to policing our words and behavior in the service of the common good. Each of us needs to remember the values that have made this country a model for the world for the past two hundred years. It is time for our elected officials and their surrogates to check their self-righteousness and overblown egos at the door, and to begin acting like public servants who want to bridge the partisan gap and end gridlock. “Do what you were elected to do!” as one local community leader put it, “and work with your fellow Americans to build a better America.”

It’s time to take ownership for our part as citizens in making our democracy work. Asking “What’s best for America?” and rising above the fray is a tall order indeed when so many of us, it seems, prefer to rubberneck a good fight.  We need to demand a change in the conversation to: “How can we make positive change in an atmosphere of mutual respect?”

This country has always endured candidate bashing during an election cycle, yet years of divisiveness and inaction at the legislative level have frustrated and polarized the American people of all persuasions like never before.

Millions of Americans are likely to feel deeply depressed and disenfranchised the morning after the election, whoever is elected. And what will we do then?

Do we have the character strength to reach across the aisle and work together or will we allow the philosophy of “my side is right and yours is not just wrong, but un-American,” to prevail?

The time between now and Jan. 20 when we inaugurate our new President, will say it all. Our age-old tradition of agreeing to disagree with civility has kept our nation united and strong. The choice to heal, respectfully agree to disagree, find common ground, choose civility over civil war, reunify our nation and move America to higher ground begins with each of us.  Here are a few ways to help make this happen:

  • Refocus on the end goal. Make unity, civility and respect a priority. Be passionate, yet tolerant and inclusive.
  • Pivot from a “Tear Down” to “Build Up” mentality.
  • Engage others with respect, open-mindedness, trustworthiness and a genuine interest in learning why they feel the way they do.
  • Champion community, corporate and elected leaders who model civility.
  • Listen, learn from others, work collaboratively to solve problems across the partisan divide, embody fairness and support those with have a proven capacity to bring about substantive and sustainable change.
  • And, of course, vote.

We are one nation. As Abraham Lincoln so sagely pronounced, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Strengthening America from the inside out starts with bringing out the best in ourselves and one another, working through impasses, reconciling differences, finding common ground and working together for the common good.

Carl Luna is a professor at San Diego Mesa College and a widely quoted and published political pundit. Ken Druck is a Del Mar-based resilience expert who works with families, communities and organizations after a tragedy. Neville Billimoria is a San Diego-based communications, marketing and organizational leadership expert and serves as chief advocacy officer for Mission Federal Credit Union.

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