2016 Election: Rhetoric to Reconciliation

Zahava Moerdler | Fordham Law School Class of 2017

This election cycle has been rife with dangerous speech. Dangerous speech has been defined as speech that has a reasonable chance of catalyzing or amplifying violence by one group against another, depending on the circumstances in which the speech was made or disseminated. Both campaigns used language that depended on fear-mongering narratives that unified us around a common enemy. For the Clinton campaign, the proposed enemy was located in Russia—the growing threat to democracy and civilization around the world—harkening back to the Cold War Era narratives. For the Trump campaign, the proposed enemy was located at home—every “other” one can think of: from African-Americans, to immigrants, to females, to Jews and Muslims. Stories abound about the effectiveness of these negative narratives include a child of Russian heritage accused by her teacher if she were a hacker, the online attacks on those criticizing the Trump campaign focusing on Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” and anti-Semitic ads evoking the “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” These terrifying narratives, pervasive today around the world with the rise of right-wing populist movements like National Front in France, AfD in Germany and Jobbik in Hungary, perpetuate stigma, discrimination and racism. The language used stands eerily close to the brink of constituting more than hate speech, but dangerous speech.

Given these alarming trends, how can the American people come together and respond to this terrifying situation? How can we move past the speech, the narratives and the hate? Because, at the end of the day, no matter our origin, ethnicity, religious or race we must work together to build America back up from the destruction wrought by this election cycle. First, we must promote meaningful dialogue and discourse. The country has become so fractured by party alliances, ideology and points of view. Now that the election is over, we must put the hate behind us and talk about the concrete policies that can move us forward. This must happen on many strata. Newly elected government officials must put aside “partisanism” to elect a new Justice to the Supreme Court, to respond in unity to the crises in places like Syria and Sudan, to discuss important trade deals and to continue the work to end climate change. The populace must acknowledge the hateful and fearful language used by our candidates and work to mend the bridges that now divide us. Families, friends and neighbors need to work together to accept one another. Beyond the individual work that needs to be done, new narratives should be promoted from the government and from the incoming government. Rather than focusing on hate and fear, our incoming governmental officials should focus on unity, interdependence and equality.

The American Experiment has been a glorious process providing democracy, liberty and basic human rights.  As Secretary Clinton so poignantly discussed in her concession speech, there is a lot of work that still needs to be done, in terms of gender and racial equality, but we have to accept the results of the election, move past the campaign narratives and begin to accept one another.  Then—and only then—we will be able to “make America great again.”

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