In an election season marked by anger and bitterness, by accusations of treason and voter suppression, by racism and fearmongering and pipe bombs and the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the nation’s history, some people have acted decently toward one another.
Yes, it’s true. These moments may not stand out like the ones involving strife. But across the nation, there were counterpoints to the dominant tenor of the political contest that comes to a head on Tuesday.
The means varied. Some political combatants used social media, a platform so often defined by discord, to extend an olive branch. Others used instruments to strike a more civil tone. In one instance, partisan discord briefly gave way to the thrums of guitar and cello.
Even in the race’s final hours, some decided that there were higher values than partisan gain.
On Monday, the Republican governor of Utah, Gary R. Herbert, tweeted a picture of himself with a state representative, Patrice Arent, an incumbent Democrat. He praised her record and called her a “wonderful person.”
Arent, the state’s lone Jewish legislator, had been the target of a mailer distributed by her Republican challenger, Todd Zenger, that adapted language from the Book of Mormon to paint Arent as a threat to the state’s religious values. The tactic drew outrage, with some seeing evidence of anti-Semitism, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The state’s Republican leader wouldn’t brook this tactic, even when it targeted a member of the opposing party. Though they haven’t always agreed, the governor acknowledged, he praised Arent’s “dedication to preserving freedom of religion and conscience."
“She is a wonderful person who respects others' points of views,” he added.
Last month, a Democratic state legislator in North Carolina also used Twitter to issue a rare appeal. State Sen. Jeff Jackson asked that voters give his Republican challenger, Nora Trotman, their “honest consideration.”
“It feels like our divisions are growing deeper each day,” he wrote. “So let me just take a moment and commend my opponent on running an honest, positive campaign.”
He went so far as to call her a “good person.”
The message drew more than 8,000 likes. The Charlotte Observer wrote it up. National commentators weighed in.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Jackson said he was dismayed that his tweet was considered newsworthy.
“It was just a small message from a state legislator in North Carolina,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me that it would attract this much attention, which I guess is a testament to the times we’re in. We’ve become accustomed to no-holds-barred campaign mode.”
He was inspired to put out the statement, he said, amid the news of pipe bombs being mailed to prominent Democrats. “I decided it wasn’t enough to lecture people about civility when I had the opportunity to model it,” he said.
Jackson acknowledged that the sentiment was easier to express given his comfortable lead in his race. It’s understandable, he said, why a candidate in a nail-biting contest wouldn’t want to spare a kind word for an opponent for fear of forfeiting votes.
He also said his background in the military — he enlisted after the Sept. 11 attacks and later attended law school on the GI Bill — shaped his view of political warfare.
“I can assure people from personal experience there is a difference between literal combat and political debate,” he said.
Two candidates in Vermont tried to make that contrast clear by actually joining hands for a musical duet after an October debate. Zac Mayo, a Republican, and Lucy Rogers, a Democrat, are competing for a seat in the state House in Montpelier. Politics briefly fell away, however, as different identities became more salient. Mayo plays the guitar, and Rogers plays the cello.
The cellist emailed the guitarist two weeks before the Oct. 10 forum and suggested that they treat debate-goers to a musical number, the Associated Press reported. The political rivals practiced for two hours and performed the song “Society” at a local library in rural Lamoille County.
The lyrics rang out like a plea in polarized times. “Society, have mercy on me, I hope you’re not angry if I disagree. Society, crazy and deep, I hope you’re not lonely without me."
The performance resonated, Mayo told the AP, because it spoke to dissatisfaction with the tone of the national conversation.
“It’s commenting on the times,” he said. “I mean, we’re filled with all of this anger and divisiveness throughout whatever we’re watching, whatever we’re reading, and it’s everywhere. And I think a lot of people are tired of it.”
The candidate arrived at this insight from within the political ring. Sometimes distance from the partisan fray is needed for a new perspective.
“Obviously it’s a little difficult for me to be here tonight,” Cindy McCain, the widow of Republican Sen. John McCain, said Monday at the Arizona GOP’s pre-election rally in Prescott, Ariz. “But this isn’t about me.”
She reflected on the victories celebrated, and defeats endured, by her husband, in whose passing in August some heard a death knell for political decency.
“Win or lose for any of you here tonight, and those of us on the stage, win or lose, we need to figure out how we can come together, work with our allies — and our rivals — and help make this wonderful country better than we found it,” McCain said.