The following is an op-ed by Furman President Elizabeth Davis, as it appeared in The State newspaper on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.
On Wednesday, Nov. 4, one thing will be certain: Regardless of the ongoing pandemic; despite the most partisan presidential election in our lifetime; and notwithstanding the multitude of uncertainties, trials and tribulations visited upon us in 2020, we will still be a community.
This is the message some of my colleagues and I shared with the Furman University campus earlier this week, but it is just as true of our larger communities.
Even if election outcomes are not immediately final, and despite fears that “the other side” will ruin our Republic, on Nov. 4, we will still be Furman University. We will continue to be partners in our communities where we live, where we work and worship, and where we spend our free time. We will still be South Carolinians, and Americans, in all our messy, glorious diversity.
I turned voting age in 1980, the year President Jimmy Carter lost in a landslide to President Ronald Reagan. We thought that was a contentious election year. Vietnam and Watergate were still very fresh in our nation’s collective memory, the Iran Hostage Crisis had every American glued to their TVs during the evening news, and our best athletes sat out the Olympics, hosted by the Soviet Union. President Carter wasn’t even the presumptive candidate. A challenge by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy kept his nomination in question until their party’s convention in August, less than three months before the general election.
Through these various crises, there were times when the nation felt desperate and uncertain. However, this year’s election is the first in our lifetimes in which a significant number of voters on each side – Republicans and Democrats – feel that a loss would result in an existential crisis and a threat to our nation, according to Danielle Vinson, a professor of politics and international affairs at Furman who studies and teaches the presidency.
However, Dr. Vinson, who also studies media and politics, also reminds us that the nasty partisanship played out in the media are not accurate representations of American attitudes. The theatrics of derision and division drive viewership, and therefore revenue. They are good for entertainment purposes, but when performed off a TV set and in our front yards among neighbors, they can be destructive.
We have more in common with each other than we have disagreements, and we have more in common than some would want us to believe. Our allegiance to each other and to our country runs deeper than yard signs and bumper stickers.
In a message on Tuesday to the university, our chaplain, Dr. Vaughn CroweTipton, Dr. Vinson, and other members of a special committee formed to discuss these issues wrote, “As a community, let us learn from our differences and resolve that in all of our pre- and post-election conversations we will offer one another clarity in our thinking, compassion in our interpretations, courage in our responsibilities, and connection in our relationships.”
I encourage everyone across the Upstate and all of South Carolina to also summon the courage of their responsibilities to their communities, to be compassionate, and to appreciate our relationships, even among those with whom we disagree about politics.
On Wednesday, we are urging Furman students and employees to wear our school color – purple – because it demonstrates the beauty that results when red and blue come together. We hope you will join us, if not in purple, in other displays of unity that strengthen our communities.