In My Own Words: Elections and violence by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

“But what is more important was that as it happened, we did not see one tank or helmeted officer in the street. A country of over 200 million people was able to change Presidents overnight, without one bayonet being unsheathed. I believe any country that can still do that can’t be all bad.” – Art Buchwald writing about the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon on June 8, 1975

This column is being written before election day, so I have no idea who was elected the president of the United States. For me, there was no contest between the two candidates, but, if the one I didn’t support gets elected, I will accept the will of the people. Our government and its elections are based on law. To paraphrase the Art Buchwald quote printed above: the true beauty of our country is that we change leadership without bloodshed.

There have been no violent overthrows of our presidents, no grabbing of total power by any one political party, no generals taking the White House or Congress by force and no one refusing to leave office because he won’t accept the will of the people. We take this fact for granted, not realizing just how lucky we are. If you study the history of South America, you’ll not only see how many governments have changed by violent means, but the cost of that change in lives lost. 

What really scares me is not who won the election that took place this week, although I would prefer the person I voted for to win. What I fear is that, for the first time in U.S. history, a candidate will not only refuse to accept the outcome of that vote, but urge his supporters to take arms to keep him in office – that American will fight American, that the army will be called out against American citizens in a struggle to keep democracy alive.

I hope and pray that the calls in the past few months to negate this election if it doesn’t go the way some people want are just hyperbole – just another example of the unfortunate way social media has exacerbated the differences between us, and left us so polarized that we see each other as enemies, rather than fellow citizens with different hopes, desires and needs. A poll taken in October, though, noted that more than 55 percent of those interviewed thought there would be violence after the election. The poll was taken before the plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was revealed; the men charged with that crime are said to have disagreed with her handling of COVID-19. According to news reports, they were working with a militia in the hopes of starting a civil war. Note, they wanted to start a civil war – a war that would pit parent against child, sibling against sibling, friend against friend and citizen against citizen. The only war that we should be fighting right now is the one against a virus whose death toll keeps rising, leaving families devastated by the loss of their loved ones. 

We had a civil war once on our land and the repercussions of that event still reverberate more than 150 years afterward. That pain should never happen again. I don’t want to see people hurt, jailed or killed because the election was contested with violence. To take up arms to prevent an elected official being sworn in to office is to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government, which is treasonable. The results of that action could be horrific. We all need to accept whoever wins because, if we don’t, that violence may only be the beginning. Let us hope that, just as we did in 1975, we acknowledge a president – for a first or second term – with no blood spilled.