With two weeks left until the final votes are cast in an election that is tearing this nation apart, it’s increasingly hard to see how the end of that election will allow us to come together.
The conflicts are too ugly, fed by a tone President Donald Trump sets, some supporters follow, and opponents too often emulate. What were once political disagreements are now detonations of contempt. The battle lines Republican and Democrats once drew, that often faded with changing circumstances, we now etch in stone.
For 18 years, the progressive North Country Peace Group has protested for peace and justice each Saturday in Setauket. For 14 years, an opposition group called the North Country Patriots has occupied the opposite corner to tout conservative politics that are pro-police, pro-military, and now, pro-Trump.
The two groups generally coexist in peace. Some on each side know each others’ names. Moments of respect have occurred, amid the honking from supporters of each cause.
But Saturday the situation blew up badly for the first time after a pro-Trump "Make America Great" road rally held by the Setauket Patriots in Port Jefferson showed up, and three Peace Group members were arrested for blocking the road.
"This was different," said Myrna Gordon, a 78-year-old retired teacher from Port Jefferson who said she saw the approaching cars and signs as too ugly to let pass, and was shocked by the nastiness of their comments. "This was a caravan of hate and racism, and I could not stand silent and let it pass."
Sunday, a huge pro-Trump "MAGA-Gras" rally rolled from Seaford to Montauk, snarling traffic and attracting protesters, and leading to numerous ugly exchanges. Late last month in Northport, a confrontation between a Trump caravan participant and a protester allegedly led to the men menacing each other, one with a gun and the other with a trailer hitch, and resulted in an arrest. And a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found 68% of adults say the presidential election is a significant source of stress.
We are turning against each other, in rage and depression, as the president drags the discourse to new lows. Trump has refused to support a serious strategy for fighting a disease that has killed 220,000 Americans. Monday in a call with staffers that some press listened to, he called Dr. Anthony Fauci a "disaster," adding: "People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong," as new infections explode. Trump told a Reuters reporter he was "a criminal for not reporting" unsubstantiated allegations against Democrat Joe Biden’s son Hunter that intelligence agencies suspect is Russian disinformation.
Our airwaves and mailboxes are stuffed with electioneering so foul that it feels as if the stench may never fade.
Two weeks from now, the voting ends. We don’t know whether the winner will be immediately known. It will be a perilous time.
Returning to constructive engagement and respectful disagreement won’t be magic. It won’t be easy. And it’s far from assured.
— The editorial board