by Rianna Grissom
Advocating for justice within public policy is a fundamental way in which community psychologists seek social change. Often the goal is to empower community members to get involved in the political process so that they can have their voices heard. This election season, citizen involvement does not seem to be an issue. In fact, the passionate discourse around our two presidential candidates has created a different problem entirely. Arguments between family, friends, and colleagues have reached a fever pitch, while attacks between strangers have gotten more vicious as well.
Political disagreements are to be expected during an election year, but typical debates over party membership, policies, and the like have turned into questions of character. This political season has weakened the foundation of “community” at multiple levels by creating distrust. Partisanship has led to a rift that is wreaking havoc on all types of relationships. In particular, there has been a lot of commentary on how differing opinions have impacted families and friendships, which is the most basic form of community. On a larger scale, the entire country is divided from liberals and conservatives fiercely defending their camps, while moderates side-eye us all.
In 2016, much of the political discourse is taking place on social media – and many have joked about the number of loved ones they have had to unfollow or unfriend. It has become such a source of contention that Saturday Night Live created a skit about how to avoid confrontation during Thanksgiving. So, what is so special about these candidates or this election to cause such uproar? Well, I could name many things… but what I think it comes down is the different perspectives on the social injustices that have been happening around the country, and the proposed solutions (assuming such events are even framed as injustice).
The past year has been filled with stories about immigration and refugees, LGBTQ rights, gender equality, police brutality, the wage gap, etc. Frequently, these stories are about people from the marginalized populations that we as community psychologists so often serve. People are drawing lines in the sand because these events prey on our moral beliefs, and those who diverge from our own moral code are offensive.
So, what do we do once the dust has settled and either Clinton or Trump is elected to office? How can we mend broken homes and form a bipartisanship that will unite our divided country? Is there something that can be put in motion before Election Day and be used to prevent this type of dissension in the future?
Perhaps we should take something out of the ecological systems theory playbook and consider are “adversaries” in context. What in their experience and environment has shaped their views and, ultimately, their decision to vote for a certain candidate? Is someone’s political affiliation necessarily a salient part of his or her identity? Is it for you? We could also take a community needs approach and consider the talents, strengths, skills, and abilities of each candidate rather than using a deficit-based assessment to determine their fitness for office.
Regardless of how we choose to vote, or whether we vote at all, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States of America. Unfortunately, no one can determine how successful his or her term in office will be until it is in motion. So, we must live with the choice and acknowledge success or failure as it comes and for what it is. Communities, no matter how they are defined, are only as strong as the relationships within them. We make advances as a community through alliances, trust, and respect for both our diversity and similarities.
Rianna Grissom is a graduate student in the Applied Psychology and Prevention Science program at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.