After blistering campaign, Americans wonder how to heal

In this Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 photo, the Rev. Dr. James L. Brewer-Calvert, left, and Sylvia Gibbs sing during the Ecumenical Election Day Communion Service at the Decatur First United Methodist Church in Decatur, Ga. Democrats and Republicans shared the same pews, wearing voter stickers shaped like Georgia peaches, and shut out the barrage of news sweeping the country. (AP Photo/Rebecca Breyer)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 photo, the Rev. Dr. James L. Brewer-Calvert, left, and Sylvia Gibbs sing during the Ecumenical Election Day Communion Service at the Decatur First United Methodist Church in Decatur, Ga. Democrats and Republicans shared the same pews, wearing voter stickers shaped like Georgia peaches, and shut out the barrage of news sweeping the country. (AP Photo/Rebecca Breyer)

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) — For an hour they stood shoulder to shoulder, those who supported Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, praying together in a service of postelection healing. Noting the painful labels and divisions of the just-finished campaign, the Rev. Jenna Faith Strizak said, “We’ve got to figure out how to live together. And not just live together, but be one.”

That could take a miracle: To bring together those elated by Trump’s ascension to president-elect with those who see him as an embodiment of the country’s worst instincts and a threat to its future. Even as Clinton pledged the victor her support Wednesday, others protested in the streets, burned flags and insisted he didn’t represent them.

“It’s shattering,” said Byron Beck, a writer in Portland, Oregon, who supported Clinton. While harshly faulting Trump, he cast the moment as a dilemma for all Americans. “We have lost our way, and I don’t know what that reset button will look like, but I know that I will work for it or I’ll leave the country.”

Trump extended a hand to such opponents in his victory speech, saying Clinton was owed “a major debt of gratitude” as he made an impassioned plea for both sides to join behind him: “Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division. … To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people.”

But the nation remained split over whether that was achievable or a pollyannaish vision. Exit polls showed voters expressing not just unhappiness with the way government is working but, among many who found hope in Trump, outright anger.

“The bitterness could well get worse,” said Robert Boatright, a Clark University professor and research director at the National Institute for Civil Discourse. “It probably will.”

For Clinton’s supporters, the minutiae of how to move on seemed a secondary concern as many still professed shock and sadness over the result.

In Denver, 47-year-old Eli Romero questioned how a man she dismissed as “a circus” could win, saying the election convinced her to move to Mexico. In Naperville, Illinois, 68-year-old Carol Anthony said she felt like she was punched in the stomach. In Hagerstown, Maryland, Sebiila Odin pondered how unity could even be possible.

“You know, all this talk about healing, that’s a problem, too, because we’ve never healed,” said Odin, who is black, referring to race relations.

Trump’s election bared rifts that have churned for decades, if not since the nation’s founding. Toxic politics have degenerated to rank-and-file hatred of the other side. “It’s impossible to think that a honeymoon will follow all the nastiness and name-calling,” said Robert Schmuhl, a University of Notre Dame professor.

Still, in small gestures all over the country, some were vowing to bridge the gulf between the two sides.

John Barnes, a 60-year-old retiree in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who cast his ballot for Trump, pledged to move on from his anger at a neighbor who supported Clinton, who he feared could destroy the Constitution. Jennifer Farley, a 38-year-old chef and cookbook author in Bethesda, Maryland, who joked she’d drown herself if Trump won, said she was considering holding potluck dinners with people of different ideologies, seeking unity through the healing power of food. And Tane Danger, a 31-year-old independent in Minneapolis, planned a series of improv comedy shows in divided communities to try to get people of different backgrounds in the same room to share laughter.

“Hopefully that moves us a little closer to helping to understand and be able to work together,” he said.

In Richlands, Virginia, when Linda Crawford made known her support for Clinton on Facebook during the race, she said she was met with an onslaught of condemnation and personal attacks. But a week ago, she was relieved when she met many of those same people at a funeral, and found they could hug and comfort one another despite their differences.

“People still love one another and are still good to each other,” said the 66-year-old retired teacher. “This will pass — the election will pass — and our country will heal and move on.”

At Decatur First United Methodist’s ecumenical election night service, congregants from 13 different churches joined. Pastors spoke of unity, and the floors vibrated with “America the Beautiful” from the organ pipes. Democrats and Republicans shared the same pews, wearing voter stickers shaped like Georgia peaches, and shut out the barrage of news sweeping the country.

“Let’s talk about what’s going to happen and how we can help the country,” said Gary Brinker, a 56-year-old salesman who voted for Trump. “We’re going to have to work together.”

Those who supported Clinton and other candidates expressed similar sentiments, professing a willingness to see past differences and a hope that people could come together. Enoch Bang, a 23-year-old law student who voted for Clinton, said the tenor of the campaign drove him to seek an escape from the election returns in the quiet of prayer.

“We have to live tomorrow as one country, as one people,” the son of South Korean immigrants said. “That’s what I want to pray for.”

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