Election watch: While we wait, a warning

Election watch: While we wait, a warning
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As the presidential election continues to unfold, the Statue of Liberty stands guard in New York Harbor, her light shining brightly on our democracy. She never moves. She never turns away. She waits like all of us while we count every vote — which we must.

The good news from the election so far is the absence of serious unrest and violence. In part, that is because we have asked people to be patient and heeded the warnings that we got — warnings we must remember in the days ahead.

Amnesty International (AIUSA), a human rights organization, took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post before the election calling on all U.S. federal, local and state officials to uphold their human rights obligations under international law. The open letter identified the widespread availability of guns, combined with the incitement to violence and the failure of government officials at the highest levels to call out white supremacy, as having left the country vulnerable to those who would foster inequity over fairness, hate over unity and impunity over injustice. 


Amnesty International was not alone. The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Washington-based organization that provides early warnings to countries in danger of falling into violent conflict, had also issued alerts about the United States, saying that conflict could arise from the country’s sharp political polarization, the growing presence of armed extremists, the possibility of prolonged uncertainty about the outcome of the vote and a president who deploys martial rhetoric and refuses to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. “While the U.S. remains the world's strongest military and economic power, its place and role on the international stage is shifting,” ICG warns. “There are potentially dramatic implications for international peace and security from a U.S. foreign policy that is increasingly inward-looking, less predictable, less multilateral, and more reliant on the threat or use of military force to achieve its objectives.” 

In perhaps the must shocking of warnings, the international non-partisan organization Freedom House also called out America in its latest report warning about impending dangers to our electoral integrity, judicial independence and safeguards against corruption. “Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself, undermine the country’s ability to persuade other governments to defend core human rights and freedoms, and are actively exploited by dictators and demagogues,” Freedom House wrote.

We cannot miss the message of the moment from this bitter election. Despite that the election has been devoid of major physical violence, the emotional damage and the wear and tear on our democracy has been enormous. We’ve torn ourselves apart in anger, frustration and incivility. But, so far, we have not seen widespread violence. 

It would be a mistake to get too comfortable when only days ago we witnessed Americans tearing down one another’s political signs in displays of division. 

There is much work to be done to heal America. We must stay focused and active in the ongoing struggle to be a nation of tolerance and freedom. We must listen to each side and lower the rhetorical temperature. Respect for the “other” needs to prevail whether it is political, racial, social, cultural, religious, economic or ethnic differences.

This is the time to commit to do better by our country. Lady Liberty is watching.

Tara D. Sonenshine is a former U.S. under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.