US polls: Can the damage be undone?

US polls: Can the damage be undone?

Washington - Another 30 percent agreed that America is more divided than ever, but optimistically said that Americans can come together soon.


Bernd Debusmann Jr.

Published: Mon 7 Nov 2016, 7:49 AM

Last updated: Mon 7 Nov 2016, 10:42 AM

On Tuesday, many Americans will breathe a sigh of relief that these unprecedented, divisive and bizarre elections are finally over. Moving on, it will be important to take the lessons learned and apply them to the future for the good of America.
In the Wall Street Journal, social psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Ravi Iyer noted that on the morning of November 9th, "those on the winning side will feel relieved, but many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil."
The sad fact is, as Haidt and Iyer point out, is that the day after the election is "likely to be darker and more foreboding" than the day after any American election since 1860.
After all, this electoral cycle saw repeated incidents of violence at rallies, accusations of collusion with a foreign power, and allegations of moral and criminal misconduct become commonplace.
In October, a tracking poll conducted by SurveyMoney found that 50 percent of Americans believe that the country is more divided than at any point in the past, and that these splits would exist "far into the future"
Another 30 percent agreed that America is more divided than ever, but optimistically said that Americans can come together soon. According to the data, less than one in five people believe the country hasn't sunk to its lowest, more divided state of affairs.
Such levels of distrust and animosity do not leave one with great hope for the future of American politics.
How then to move forward?
Whether or not Trump wins, it will be vital that American politicians - from both sides of the political spectrum - take careful note of the things he said that resonated with many millions of Americans.
"We don't win anymore. We have no strategy to fight our enemies. Our allies aren't paying enough freight. Defense cuts and feckless leadership are projecting American weakness. Trade deals help only some Americans. Washington doesn't work," American Enterprise Institute senior vice president Danielle Pletka noted in the Washington Post. "Separate the bill of particulars from Trump the person, and the reality is, these complaints make sense."
Much of Trump's success in the electoral campaign was due to his ability to portray himself as a Washington outsider - and much of Hillary Clinton's problems stemmed from her inability to escape her image of being a typical, crooked politician who considers herself above the law. In the event she is elected - which seems likely - she will have to work hard to prove herself to a huge segment of the American population that views her, at best, with deep suspicion, if not outright loathing.
"If Clinton continues to be her own worst enemy, if she were to behave in office as she has too often before, she will make it all that much worse," the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus wrote on Sunday. "She needs to guard against this by learning, finally, from the mistakes of her past."
Most importantly, no matter who wins the election, the unfortunate reality is that irrevocable damage has probably been caused to both American democracy and America's image, both at home and abroad.
Across the world - whether in Moscow, or Beijing or Mexico City, for example - people are scratching their heads wondering how the United States had the nerve to lecture them on the democratic process, while at home two deeply disliked candidates insulted each other and accused each other of a variety of misdeeds. One candidate, many will remember, even threatened to jail his opponent and essentially leave America's allies abroad to their own devices.
Is that, one wonders, what American democracy has become? If that's not the case, how to prove that to people, both in the United States and abroad?
The next President will likely spend the next four years answering that question, working to heal wounds at home and appearances abroad. Whether they will be successful is anybody's guess.

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