The Respect Deficit

He was duly and legally elected. It was a surprise to many and a great disappointment to a large number of voters. Many were enraged when he won the Republican nomination. But he went on to win the presidency even though he failed to win the popular vote. Some say he was able to win because the Democrats were divided. The country itself was, in fact, deeply divided. But he won. He ran on a platform of wanting to make changes. But even before his inauguration, his opponents, who refused to accept the outcome of the election, began a vicious campaign against him, proposing drastic measures to neutralize or even end his presidency.

No, not Donald Trump. Abraham Lincoln.

Many historians say America’s 16th president was also its greatest. Arguably, Lincoln was the first president who campaigned to make America great by stopping the spread of the most horrible practice in human existence—slavery. But many Democrats and states didn’t see it that way. Before Lincoln’s inauguration, the opposition showed its displeasure with his election by taking the most extreme measure ever. It started what we now know as the Civil War.

Missing Unity
The similarities between the elections of Lincoln and Trump are not far-fetched. People campaigned for the Electoral College to deny Trump the office he’d won. There were even calls for his impeachment before he took the oath of office. California is talking about seceding from the union. Imagine that! There are those who really want to remove their state from the United States of America and form their own country all because they disliked the duly elected president.

Perhaps because our nation was still young when Lincoln was elected, many had not come fully to appreciate the concept of unity among its people. They did not yet understand that a lawfully elected president, or any other official, must be accepted by all, regardless of opposing beliefs or party affiliations. It is no exaggeration that the actions of those who would not accept Lincoln’s presidency cost us more American lives in the Civil War—over 600,000—than in any other war in our history. The opposition to Lincoln continued through his reelection until his assassination in April 1865. One would like to believe that since those days our country has matured and learned to accept the results of an election without resorting to war, literal or figurative.

For a time, this was the case. But now we seem to be regressing. Too much intolerance, too much vitriol, too much extremism.

Some say our country lacks civility. Political scientists study polarization, lack of civic respect, and even violence among political opponents. It is suggested that younger generations care only about themselves and have no conception of what it means to strive for harmony. Their attitude is “if you don’t agree with me, you are my enemy.” Unfortunately, they proceed to treat their fellow Americans and others just that way, like enemies.

A Mode of Tolerance
Nobody likes everybody. In terms of elected public officials, no one gets 100 percent of the votes. Differences of opinion are as natural as breathing. So how should we treat those with whom we do not agree? If we believe differently than they do, should we simply ignore them? Politely tolerate them? Many have decided to go to war with them, if not on the battlefield, then in the streets, on college campuses, in the press and in daily social interaction.

If we want to stop what has become an epidemic of hatred and instead adopt a mode of tolerance and caring for one another, we should set an example by starting at the top. By this I mean we should start with our president. Not the male president, not the Republican president, not the billionaire president, not the Protestant president, but the American president. Around the world, America is not seen as its various factions, sects, political parties or detractors, it is personified by our president. Because of this alone, his office deserves respect and, at the very least, a reasonable amount of cooperation to keep our country strong and prosperous. This is not happening.

Respect for a president has to come from the opposition as well as his supporters. It has to be shown by the media. It has to be the norm on college campuses. We should be offended when the media, domestic or foreign, pander to the masses with an agenda to disparage everything our president does, says or proposes. I am not talking about legitimate commentary on issues; I am talking about biased reporting, personal attacks and nightly ridicule by entertainers trying to boost their ratings. This is our president and whether a man, woman, Democrat, Republican, socialist, or independent, as Americans, we should not tolerate, or contribute to, disrespect for the office or the citizens who chose the man occupying it.

He Has the Job
The amount of energy, expense, and press coverage expended simply to denigrate the president is counterproductive for all of us. It diverts attention from real issues and challenges. It diminishes the influence of the United States around the globe and prevents the carrying out of domestic policies, many of which would benefit the detractors themselves. Not very pragmatic.

Harry S. Truman was disliked by many and hated by some; his actions were so often criticized that he later said, “There are probably a million people who could have done the job better than I did it, but I had the job. . . .”  There it is. Donald Trump has the job. If you don’t like it, don’t re-elect him. But until that happens, get real and grow up!

If we can discipline ourselves to respect the office of the president even if we are not a supporter, we may influence how we behave with everyone we encounter who has a different opinion or a different culture, religion, sexual preference, gender, race or political affiliation. Respect for each other. Wouldn’t that be great?

Photo credit: Jason Redmond/AFP/Getty Images

About E. Dennis Brod

E. Dennis Brod is a former elected public official, lawyer, philosopher, author, and president of The Ethical Pragmatism Institute, a nonpolitical, nonideological, nonreligious, nonprofit 501(c)(3) public charity.

Photo: Local students and their supporters march during a walkout protest against US President-elect Donald Trump in Seattle, Washington on November 14, 2016. / AFP / Jason Redmond (Photo credit should read JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images)

Want news updates?

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.