Political campaigns today produce not only winners and losers, but also grievances. For many, to be defeated is to be wronged in some way, an injustice that must be rectified.
Grievances are personal. They are wounds that can fester. They also inhibit our ability to change and grow.
Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, said, “What is grievance? The baggage of old thought and emotion.”
There has been an increase in the trend of grievance in our national politics for the last several decades. Fox News Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt said on Talkline earlier this week that it started back in the 90s.
Democrats were infuriated by the impeachment of Bill Clinton over a sex scandal. They took it out on George W. Bush after his narrow, and controversial, victory over Al Gore.
Barack Obama was victimized by far right conspiracy theories about his place of birth and his religion, which contributed to the left’s attempts to undermine the Trump presidency.
And now Trump and many of his supporters are questioning the legitimacy of the Joe Biden’s apparent victory. That sets up the argument by the right over the next four years that the election was “stolen” from Trump.
This back and forth has a cumulative impact. The grievances add up to where the legitimacy of every presidential election and subsequent administration is brought into question.
That is destabilizing for one of the basic tenets of our democracy, that we conduct free and fair elections and abide by the peaceful transfer of power.
Which brings us to the challenge ahead for Joe Biden, who, when the dust settles, will likely be the next President of the United States. Biden was just minutes into his speech the other night when he pledged to be a President “who seeks not to divide, but to unify.”
Later he demonstrated empathy for Trump supporters. “For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight,” he said. “I’ve lost a couple of times myself, but now let’s give each other a chance.”
I doubt all Biden supporters are that magnanimous. Democrats have been waiting, not so patiently, for a post-Trump presidency, and now they have it. If Biden truly wants to govern from the middle, he may find his biggest struggles will be with the left wing of his own party.
Perhaps Biden is a man for the times. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
But he cannot do that alone. If we truly want to lower the temperature and build consensus for the greater good of the country, then both sides must come to the realization that they must set aside their grievances.
Whether you were on the winning side or the losing side, it is nothing personal.