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Observer Editorial: What comes next

| Friday, November 11, 2016

Whether your emotions in the three days since the election have led to tears of joy or sorrow, feelings of ecstasy or despair, hopefulness or hopelessness about what will happen over the next four years, these emotions are understandable — and, more importantly, valid. At the conclusion of a hard-fought, monumental election, having strong emotional reactions should be expected. Intense reactions are signs of being invested in not just an election, but in the future of the country and the world. These experiences should never be discounted.

Over the coming days and weeks, everyone needs to be given a space to breathe. Whether people are upset — as we’ve seen this week with protests both on the Notre Dame campus and around the country — or excited, we must try to understand why. Once we have had a chance to process our emotions though, to move through these initial feelings, it is important to sit down, come together and move forward.

If you supported Clinton or a third-party candidate in this election, it’s important not to lose fervor in the causes you care about now that the election is over. Democracy is a two-way street, an ever-evolving conversation that needs to continue throughout the next four years. Simply looking forward to 2020 with a countdown clock is not productive. Being the minority party in both chambers of Congress does not preclude Democrats or third parties from offering productive solutions to America’s problems.

Recognize there are other outlets for political involvement in the hiatus between elections. Political and social change comes through any number of avenues beyond the voting booth. If you disagree with a decision made at national or state or local levels, speak up between now and 2020. Whether you’re on the left or right side of our political spectrum, support and join organizations fighting for the change you wish to bring about, and the ideals you aspire to. Keep fighting; make your voice heard every day, not just at the polls every other November.

If you supported Trump, and voted down-ballot for Republicans, your party has an immense responsibility to lead this nation forward. Do not take that responsibility lightly. Clinton supporters need to step forward and engage in conversation about the country’s future, and Trump supporters need to host opportunities for and participate in those conversations. Instead of blocking opposing viewpoints on your social media feeds, take the effort to dig beyond the personalized Facebook content and educate yourself on policies from left- and right-leaning news sources. No party and no candidate has the answers to all of the questions this nation will grapple with in the next four years.

When we come together in conversation, it’s important to try to understand where our friends and peers are coming from. A person’s background significantly impacts their outlook on the world, and each of us has a different maturation story. If you’re enthusiastic about Trump’s victory, try to understand why many of your fellow citizens — including immigrants, people of color and LGBTQ individuals — woke up Wednesday scared about their futures in the United States. If you had hoped for a Clinton victory, work to understand why the significant electorate of rural America put its faith behind Trump. If you voted for another candidate because you felt you could support neither Trump nor Clinton, try to fully understand the reasoning of those who cast ballots for major party candidates.

As we try to understand what motivates and drives our fellow Americans after an incredibly contentious election, we need to move forward in a way that significantly changes our discourse. Nothing is accomplished by blanketing all Trump supporters as bigots, and nothing is accomplished by dismissing Clinton supporters as out-of-touch and unthinking liberals. Don’t resort to name-calling; rather seek to understand those who do not share your same experiences. Beginning a truly empathetic conversation may be fraught with emotion, but these exchanges are critical to understanding one another in an increasingly divisive political atmosphere.

For many college students, this was the first presidential election in which they could vote, but decades down the road, our generation will be the one that leads America and the world. We can start that journey by reacting productively to this moment. This election is most likely a turning point in our country’s history, and is one of the biggest moments our generation has ever witnessed. How we proceed today, and in the days to come — whether we come together or remain divided, whether we’re open to discussion or shut down all forms of communication — will likely indicate how our generation will lead in 25 or 30 years.

As we move on from Tuesday’s results in the coming days, weeks and months, it’s important that we — both as a generation and an overall society — move forward together, ready to discuss the future of our country and ready to take action to solve the problems in front of us.

Our collective future depends on it.

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