Views from the Franconia Ridge Trail in New Hampshire's White...

Views from the Franconia Ridge Trail in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We Americans are about to crest the ridge that is the 2020 presidential election, and how we choose to handle the outcome will determine our future. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/JosephJacobs

The reckoning is upon us.

On Tuesday, and in the hours and days that follow, a winner will be determined in the contest that has consumed America seemingly forever. Either Donald Trump or Joe Biden will win the presidency.

But it is not at all clear that there will be a reckoning in another fight that has consumed America for an even longer period and in an even more literal way — the war between the rest of us that threatens to eat this country alive.

We, too, need a reckoning. Without it, we’ll have trouble moving on from this election no matter who wins. But it’s hard to be optimistic that such a reckoning is coming. So many have been fighting so fiercely for so long.

Whether one’s candidate wins or loses, will that distrust of one another go away? Will we be able to see others though lenses besides that of our politics? Will electoral preferences still form the basis for friendship or enmity?

Whether one’s candidate wins or loses, will we be able to talk without sneering, converse without yelling, look without disdaining? Will we try to see the pain in others’ lives and have empathy, and will we try to find a way to help?

Whether one’s candidate wins or loses, will we stop blindly accepting as gospel the fire hose of false information, deepfake videos and bot-generated content passed off as truth, and start trying to discern for ourselves what’s really accurate and what’s not? Will we realize that social media is a megaphone for misinformation and demand that it change?

Our nation is in a dangerous place. The reckoning between Trump and Biden will mean little if there is no reckoning among ourselves. If the fiercest combatants among us continue to regard each other with suspicion and dislike, staying in their corners and lobbing verbal grenades, our political leaders will continue to be enabled to do the same. And Washington in particular will remain mired in a game of raw power in which the side in charge ignores the side that’s not. One flexes and the other wails, just like us, losing sight of what they share, focusing on what they don’t.

The road ahead reminds me of a trail in the White Mountains in New Hampshire. It goes along Franconia Ridge, which juts up more than 4,000 feet between the two valleys on its flanks. You have to hike up to it from the notch below. It’s hard work but when you finally reach the crest of the ridge you’re greeted with a blast of deliciously cool air that’s flowing unimpeded across the top of the ridge.

You can see in all directions, and the view is stupendous, dozens of peaks punctuating luscious forests. You have to stop and savor it. Then you start hiking along the trail toward Mt. Lafayette, a 5,249-foot mountain that’s your destination. There is danger off to the sides, where the ground slopes down then falls off sharply. You stay on the path in the middle of the ridge. And so you go, energized by the breeze, eyes fixed on the tough climb to the summit ahead.

We Americans are about to crest the ridge. But it’s nighttime. I worry that we won’t recognize what we’re seeing, that the resuscitating breeze will feel more like an icy blast, that we’ll stray from the path before we reach the peak. I’ve been wrong before. I hope I am again.

I want to believe in us, all of us. We’ve got a difficult path ahead. It sure would be a lot easier if we hiked it together.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.


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