Not this year. As my colleagues Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker report from the scene, the campaign managers forum descended into shouts and insult-trading. They write:
Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” she said. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”“You did, Kellyanne. You did,” interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.
This back and forth — and it was one of several during the forum — makes clear how raw and emotional even the political pros are about this election. Can you imagine how the parties' two bases feel?
There is a tendency to assume that we've seen this all before when it comes to politics. After all, a guy once caned another guy almost to death in Congress. True enough. But I can ensure you that in the 20 years I've been covering politics, I've not seen anything like this before. Yes, there is always some tension between the two sides once the campaign ends. Losing sucks. Winning is awesome. The top brass of each campaign sacrifice years of their lives in support of their candidate. It's understandable that everyone — especially on the losing side — isn't all smiles.
What's different in this campaign — and what the Harvard forum illuminates — is that the stakes seemed higher. Every election is called "the most important election of our lifetime," but both campaigns actually believed it this time around.
For the Clinton high command, this election wasn't about a Democrat vs. a Republican. It was about tolerance vs. intolerance. Optimism vs. alienation. Moving forward vs. moving backward.
For Trumpworld, the election was the last, best chance to reclaim control of the country from the liberal elites. It was about overthrowing the corrupt establishment. Showing that the forgotten people in the country could still have power if they all spoke as one. "This is our last chance to save our country and reclaim it for We the People," Trump was fond of saying on the campaign trail.
With stakes set that high, wounds suffered in the course of a campaign don't heal quickly — and may not heal at all. We as Americans take pride in the idea of a peaceful transfer of power and, to Clinton's credit, she stepped off the national stage gracefully and without controversy. But simply because Clinton isn't aggressively seeking to undermine the election result doesn't mean that bipartisan healing will happen anytime soon.
And Trump, judging by his speech in Ohio on Thursday night, doesn't much care. While nodding at the need to come together, Trump again and again reminded the crowd of how he had won, how he had proven everyone — the media, Republicans, Clinton — wrong and how he was, well, right about everything. It was the rhetorical equivalent of rubbing your opponent's face on the mat after you pinned them.
Our polarization problem — the inability to find common humanity in our political rivals — was plenty bad before this election. It is worse today. And there's every reason to believe the next four years will be worse for our collective civility than the four years we've just lived through. They might be the least civil four years in a very, very long time.