On election day, people are preparing for civil unrest. Pull yourself together, America

In the first of his classic histories of presidential elections, The Making of the President 1960, Theodore H. White wrote:

Nowhere in the world are more people more freely engaged in active, responsible participation in the choice of national leadership than in the United States during the fall season of any American Presidential campaign. 

For White, the process of a presidential election was a solemn wonder. That ordinary human beings, who for most of their history had had their rulers – emperors or kings – imposed on them, could all have a say in who their next president would be was, to him, an incredible thing.

Does it feel like that today? Yesterday, the Pioneer Press reported:

With a large St. Paul store boarding up its windows on Grand Avenue, and the same happening at some Minneapolis locations, Twin Cities businesses are weighing steps to take in case of unrest related to Tuesday’s election.

Nelson Fox, who works with Grand Avenue businesses as the owner of a web design and digital marketing agency, noted in an email to owners and managers on Monday morning that precautions are being taken in major cities across the country.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow (Election Day), I don’t think any of us do, but given the events over the summer, better safe than sorry,” Nelson said Monday. There were instances of people setting businesses ablaze and looting them in St. Paul and Minneapolis after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Looking around the world, it is, sadly, not unusual to see elections followed by civil unrest. But that is usually what we see in countries with strong tribal identities. To think that that describes the United States today is very depressing indeed.

In this election, some tens of millions of good people will vote for one candidate and some other tens of millions of other good people will vote for another candidate. Some will vote for neither. Most of them will be good people also. And next week, next month, next year, you are going to have to share this country with people who voted for the other one. That will be much more difficult if you hate them for the way they voted. It might be impossible, and where will we be then? Boarding ourselves up is where, and who wants to live like that? Only extremists. As a first step towards The Day After, all of us, on all sides, should unequivocally condemn those who want to turn this country into a violent, tribal society.

I love this country. I left my family and friends 4,000 miles away to come and live here. It makes me sad and worried for my kid’s future to see the state it is in today. On a day when Theodore White would be turning in his grave, I’d offer the words Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Hamilton in 1800:

“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.