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The midterms show the US needs healing in more ways than one

Greg Nash
A voter is seen at a polling station in Langley High School in McLean, Va., on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, 2022.

Have you noticed that meanness and mockery have become a mainstay of our political process and that debate and open exchange of ideas have all but disappeared? Social media and cable news are partly responsible for stoking these flames but they have also become essential parts of our political process. 

This is deeply disturbing, especially at a time when the nation is coming out of a damaging pandemic we badly need to heal from. We need kindness and compassion, but instead, we are faced with public derision. 

In Georgia, both candidates have made domestic violence claims against the other. They should be discussing the issues rather than stooping to personal attacks. 

In Pennsylvania, where John Fetterman won despite a stroke and a bad heart, few on the right are remarking on his courage and wishing him well going forward. Whether or not Democrats’ attacks on Fetterman’s opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz as a snake oil salesman rather than a renowned surgeon were legitimate or not, I sincerely hope Fetterman overcomes his disabilities to be a great senator and an inspiration to all with disabilities. We need to show him kindness now and wish him well.

Part of the pervading meanness in the public square right now stems from personal attacks on former President Donald Trump, as well as his reaction to them. In fact, it is possible that it is the deterioration in this level of discourse that led to several Republican midterm losses. 

At a time when Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida is rising as the defacto leader of the Republican party, calling him “De-Sanctimonious” was unfortunate at best. There is a reason that DeSantis has such popularity, and it is not because he mocks or minimizes his opponent. Many of his policies have been successful at keeping businesses going and schools open throughout the pandemic, and Florida cities are thriving under certain economic metrics in comparison to cities in several other states, including New York and California. In addition, his wife’s recovery from breast cancer is a story many people can relate to.

With the economy failing, the midterms should have been a time for the Republicans to gain seats in Congress. Instead, I think the divisiveness in the media and among politicians undermined this simple message that usually garners votes. Votes became monolithic statements of who you thought was good versus who you thought was evil. These self-fulfilling messages are dangerous and undermine the essence of our democracy, which favors an exchange of ideas rather than knee-jerk vilification.

When it comes to health care, this sort of my-way-or-the-highway thinking has permeated the pandemic and before that, the support or opposition to Obamacare. The days of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush attempting to build consensus to govern from the center appear to be over at least for now.

But the public needs to heal from the pandemic; it can no longer tolerate being talked down to from either side. Many in the public made their unhappiness felt prior to the elections by the rejection of superimposed public health mandates — from vaccines to masks to closures — and they made their unhappiness known during the election by voting from their heart rather than from their head or from their pocketbook, the way voters usually do. 

Kindness, empathy and honest debate must take the place of dogma and mockery. We have a long way to go to get there. Consider that Trump built his wall in the right place, to prevent the flow of illegal immigrants and drug trafficking across the border into the U.S., causing untold damage to our society. But another far more dangerous wall that has been built between Democrats and Republicans needs to be torn down.

Marc Siegel, M.D., is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. He is a Fox News medical correspondent and author of the new book, “COVID; the Politics of Fear and the Power of Science.”

Tags 2022 midterm elections Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump John Fetterman Marc Siegel Mehmet Oz partisan divide Politics of the United States Ron DeSantis

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