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I have been around political campaigns my entire adult life.
I worked in my first presidential campaign in 1976, when I went to live in New York City and ran voter outreach efforts for U.S. Sen. Scoop Jackson.
I’ve worked in campaigns in Texas, Idaho, Wisconsin and a dozen other states. In each campaign, the fight was tough, often nasty and even bitter. But when the campaign was over, adversaries who lived next door to each other and split during the campaign went back to being friends and neighbors.
In Massachusetts I’ve worked on some really tough campaigns.
A few years back, I worked for now-Congressman Stephen Lynch, who was a Democratic primary candidate for the state Senate against Bill Bulger Jr. I had good friends on the other side. That campaign got so nasty that the Bulger people were leaving dead skunks on the lawns of Lynch supporters.
Whitey Bulger even sent one of his goons to find me at a pub on Broadway in Southie where I was holding a get-out-the-vote meeting for Lynch volunteers (true story). As nasty as that campaign was, when the campaign ended so did almost all of the bitterness. My old friends were still my old friends.
Unfortunately, the current election for president is very different. More than once, I’ve heard Clinton supporters say that any of their friends who support Trump are no longer their friends. The same is true for Trump supporters who have friends who support Hillary Clinton.
Someone in my own family said of their friends who support Trump: “They’re dead to me. I don’t have the time for anyone who is foolish enough to support such an evil man.”
A friend whose family grew up in Plumley Village told me that his brother called him recently and said that they should no longer be friends with someone they have known since childhood simply because he supports Trump.
The pages of Facebook are littered with comments about people “unfriending” those who disagree with them. Women, in particular, are anxious about the election and the candidates.
Part of that is due to the fact that Hillary is the first female major-party presidential nominee in the history of our country. The other part is that Trump is an admitted serial groper who has bragged about his exploits. Taken together, these factors, along with many others, make this campaign highly emotionally charged.
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The issues that our nation faces are considerable.
Illegal immigration, threats to the homeland, social injustice, economic prosperity and other issues make this election critically important. But, each election has had an equally long list of issues vital to our nation’s well-being. The difference in this election is Donald J. Trump.
Trump’s scorched-earth style has signaled his supporters that it’s permissible, even admirable, to demonize the other side. Let’s “lock her up” and put all the Muslims under surveillance. For those who oppose Trump, his words are all the evidence they need to dismiss his supporters as “deplorables.”
Campaigns are a tough business. They should be. There is an expression familiar to some of us: “Campaigns ain’t bean-bag.” In other words, this isn’t a kid’s game and we expect it to get rough and tough.
Over the past several years our nation has grown bitterly divided. On issue after issue, it appears that people have gone to separate sides of the room, and they refuse to acknowledge the other side or even consider their point of view.
That makes compromise and governing virtually impossible. We hate those on the other side. The results are a deadlocked Washington.
How can we expect our elected officials to work together if we demonize those we disagree with? If we have disdain, or worse, for those whose opinions are different, what chance do we have that our government’s leaders will work cooperatively to solve our nation’s challenges?
Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill were friends who disagreed on almost everything. But, they maintained a healthy respect for each other and worked together for the common good. Ted Kennedy was a master at maintaining friendships with people with whom he disagreed. Those friendships helped make him one of the most effective U.S. senators in our country’s history.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped seeing the other side as friends and neighbors. We no longer just disagree with them; we have no respect for them. Ominously, I have seen more than a few Trump supporters on television proudly boast that if Trump loses they will seek to take matters into their own hands violently.
So, why is it important that we maintain our friendships with people who support a different candidate than we do?
Simple. On Nov. 9 after the polls have closed and a winner has been chosen, if we are to prosper as a nation, we need to come together and move forward. If we remain deeply divided, if we continue to fight the other side, then nothing gets done and we all suffer.
After losing the election to Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush wrote a letter to Clinton in which he said in part: “Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” It is that kind of gracious acceptance of the election results and a keen understanding that we share a stake in the future of our country that has been critical to the peaceful transfer of power and the success of our nation.
So, on the day after the election, forgive your friends for their foolish choice of candidates and invite them out for a drink. At a minimum, add them back to your list of friends on Facebook. Our country’s future depends on it.
Raymond V. Mariano is the former mayor of Worcester and executive director of Worcester Housing Authority. He grew up in Great Brook Valley and holds degrees from two city universities. He will comment on his hometown every Sunday in Worcester Sun.