Once the election was over, the rage and noise would abate, I thought. Foolish, forlorn hope. It's natural that the voters on the losing side in any election will be disappointed, but I can't remember previous ones followed by such a persistently sulfuric atmosphere.
I'm not writing a political column. This is not about the relative merits of Democratic or Republican policies or candidates. It's about the response to losing an election. It's about whether you work through the disappointment, suck it up and soldier on, or dissolve into corrosive bitterness, blaming the winners and those who voted for them for the fact that the system worked the way it was designed to work. That is, one candidate got more votes than the other candidate got.
Sputtering rage and howled insults may be natural reactions among children on the playground. Among adults, they're generally not only embarrassing, but counterproductive. And many among the disappointed voters obviously understand this. But a surprising number of comments in "Sound Off," or on various social media, or in a lot of online publications are bitingly and sarcastically insulting. You have to assume that the commenters don't understand or don't care that this reaction to disappointment rarely produces positive results.
I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that people react adversely to someone else's conflicting political views. After all, people who don't like cats are annoyed at people who do. Those who like one kind of music or food or reading material are a little put off by people who like other varieties. And most of us have an impulse, often mercifully hidden, to try to teach the other person the error of their ways, so that they can understand why our choices are better.
What strikes me as odd is not that we have these impulses, nor that they are easily activated by political differences, but that anyone would think direct, insulting attacks are an effective way to persuade someone else to change. A sizeable number of people -- politicians, pundits, and ordinary voters -- profess to hold the astonishing belief that over half the people who voted in the recent national election were fools, deadbeats and bums, people who just live for a government handout. Apparently they intend to insult and lecture these ne'er-do-wells until they mend their ways and vote as their betters want them to, so we can have just one ruling political party. I think that's actually sort of a dictatorship, but never mind.
Over the arc of a relatively long life, I've lived near, worked with, and socialized with a large number of people. A few of them I considered utter fools. Not once did I ever tell any of these how I felt. Not only because I'd probably have gotten a fist in my teeth, but because I don't believe any of them would have hung their heads, blushed, and thanked me for bringing their shortcomings to their attention so they could improve. One of my last remaining freedoms is to think anything I want to, but insulting people with my thoughts is kind of well, it isn't very productive.
Of course, if one's goal is simply to vent one's spleen and let loose with an undisciplined display of rage, an insulting frontal assault may be just the thing. I suspect that, when the eruption is over, the erupter doesn't really feel any better, but it's a free country.
David Frum is a conservative Republican, worker in the Reagan campaign, Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, and a highly competent journalist. In a compelling piece in Newsweek, he outlines where he believes his party went wrong and the steps he believes it must take to become again competitive and effective. The piece seems a sensible approach for any political party that is sharply defeated in an election, but it also speaks, in my opinion, to those who express only disdain for others who didn't vote as they did.
"I remember a GOP," Frum says, "that regarded those who disagreed not as aliens and enemies, but as fellow citizens who had not yet been convinced of the merit of our ideas."
Robert B. Simpson, a 28-year Infantry veteran who retired as a colonel at Fort Benning, is the author of "Through the Dark Waters: Searching for Hope and Courage."