“Fear goes to the polls” an e-mail arriving in my inbox today announced to share its daily digest of articles. Americans, voting in a democracy, are going to the polls this election day, possibly in numbers we’ve not seen in recent voting memory. Perhaps people are fueled by fear, but it might be they are fueled by a desire for change, or a desire to maintain the country’s direction, by a deep sense of patriotism, or a moment of appreciation for women’s suffrage. Many of us, I suspect, have had many feelings, some of them mixed, as we cast our ballot in Election 2016.
I have written before about the responsibility leaders have to offer hope (Why America Doesn’t Need to Win) and much now has been written about how we move on after this election to find common ground when the electorate is clearly divided. That ability is a fundamental hallmark of democracies. My expectation is that demonstrating the strength of democracy will matter most to Americans going forward. If that is true, each one of us has an opportunity to offer our personal leadership in this moment.
Why is that important? I believe our forefathers opted to design a republic quite intentionally to signal that no elected president has more power than the people she represents. Joe Jaworski, the founder of American Leadership Forum, a civic engagement nonprofit that I worked at for eight years, was prompted to start the organization in response to many life experiences. One that has stayed with me, from his book Synchronicity, is a conversation he shared with his father, Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor during Watergate. Leon’s observation to his son was the too much attention in our country had shifted to the White House and the person in it, when the forefathers had opted for a representative government that relies on leadership distributed throughout the country at multiple levels. Joe started his nonprofit, in part, to encourage that leadership from within communities with an emphasis on perspectives from intentionally diverse backgrounds.
Americans’ allegiance to this republic still seems strong to me. Engagement in our shared future has grown over the past 18 months if the amount of ink spilled on this election is any indication. Certainly I am heartened to learn that the debates pulled more television viewers than professional football, a sign of hope in that future if ever there was one.
Going forward, we can ask more questions of the people we know who backed the “other” candidate. We can try to understand what life experiences shaped that vote and continue to participate in democracy, perhaps even beyond voting in elections. That would be a sign of hope and of democracy anyone of us can practice and this republic was designed for each of us to lead in that way.
Ann Skeet is the director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)