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Democracy’s North Star is at risk this election: a peaceful transition of power

In this Oct. 5, 2020, file photo an American flag files atop the White House after President Donald Trump arrived from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center via Marine One in Washington.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

“Social trust,” writes David Brooks,” is the confidence that other people will do what they ought to do most of the time ... and work for the common good.” Why does this matter? He added, “When people in a church lose faith or trust in God, the church collapses. When people in a society lose faith or trust in their institutions and in each other, the nation collapses.”

The risk of collapse is real. The numbers attest to this.

A new YouGov poll of 1,999 registered voters out this week found that 56% of respondents agree on some level that America will see an increase in violence as a result of the election. The poll also confirmed the rising distrust in election results nationally, with nearly half (47%) disagreeing that the election “is likely to be fair and honest.”

We write as two members of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, a conservative and progressive, who haven’t always seen eye to eye on politics and culture. But along with (and in line with) our shared faith, we are both deeply committed to respectful civic and national dialogue. We believe that loving your neighbor means trying to hear someone out, even when you are convinced that he or she is dangerously wrong. In support of this principle we are signatories to a new letter from Braver Angels, a citizens’ movement to confront toxic levels of political polarization all around us. The letter outlines our commitment to “What We Will Do to Hold America Together.”

It is a message from the brink, a call to preserve trust in each other, and hope in righting America’s wrongs — along with a reminder that we have the power and responsibility to preserve the democratic institutions that are at the core of American’s greatness. Gathering together voters on both sides of this presidential campaign, this letter is an “appeal for the complete disavowal of election-related violence, calls for such violence, or excuse-making for anyone on either side who would commit or tolerate violence as a means of influencing an election.”

We acknowledge the real possibility of a contested election, and affirm peaceful, democratic resolutions: “If our institutions cannot produce consensus on who is the legitimately elected president, we resolve to work together across this chasm for solutions grounded in the Constitution and guided by our democratic and nonviolent traditions and our sense of shared destiny.”

This aligns with President Dallin Oaks’ recent conference talk “Love Your Enemies,” where he reminded Latter-day Saints, “We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome. In a democratic society we always have the opportunity and the duty to persist peacefully until the next election.”

We also commit to not demonize or question the decency of Americans who vote differently from us. This is not superficial politeness, and can be hard work. But there is also joy to be found, as attested by the many examples of friendship across the serious disagreements facing our country.

Maybe for the first time in our lives we can understand the enormity of Lincoln’s plea when he asked Americans to call upon the “better angels” of their nature.

At stake is democracy’s North Star — a peaceful transition of power. The letter concludes: “We the undersigned will work separately for what each of us believes is right, but we will also work together to protect the land we all love — to lift up American citizenship and the American promise in a time of peril and to find in ourselves the understanding that our differences don’t simply divide us, but also can strengthen and complete us.”

This is too important to not raise our voices as concerned Americans. We encourage all citizens to add their names to the letter, too.

Jacob Hess is the editor of Public Square Magazine, former board member of the National Coalition of Dialogue & Deliberation, and partner with Living Room Conversations and Village Square for many years. Erika Munson is the Utah state coordinator for Braver Angels. A teacher, mother and grandmother, she was co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges and is currently on the board of Emmaus LGBTQ Ministry.