“These tragedies have reminded us that words matter, and that the power of life and death is in the tongue. We have been warned that eternal vigilance continues to be freedom’s price.” – Barry C. Black, U.S. Senate chaplain, during his closing prayer, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021
Almost anyone who has ever overcome a serious addiction will agree: Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you finally wake up one day and realize you have to make some significant changes in your life.
Hopefully, for all Americans, the events of Wednesday afternoon in our nation’s capital represented that lowest of low points. Because if the images of armed U.S. citizens pushing through barricades, scaling walls and breaking windows of the U.S. Capitol aren’t enough to shake you to your core, we’re not sure what will.
But if you think this is just one more condemnation of outgoing President Donald Trump and the rhetoric that incited that mob to riot inside our hallowed halls of government, you’re wrong. Others have spent the past few days doing that already. And whatever transpires over the last week and a half of the Trump presidency is out of our hands.
Instead, we think it’s time for a serious reckoning in this country. It’s time for all of us to look inward. It’s time to analyze how things went so wrong over the past several decades that our fellow Americans felt the need to barge into the Capitol, injure law enforcement officers, deface historic property and vandalize government offices. How did we sink so low in our political discourse and interactions with each other that thousands were willing to act like they did this past week?
Certainly, many will point the finger at the president and say it’s all his fault for constantly fomenting chaos and division over the past four years. Others will look at us in the media and say we’re to blame for despising him since the day he was elected.
But the truth is – whether we’re willing to admit it or not – almost all of us bear some responsibility. Because if we hadn’t allowed ourselves to be pulled in one direction or another, into one of the most extreme states of political polarization our nation has ever seen, this never would have happened.
If only we had chosen, years ago, to fight to maintain the Fairness Doctrine, we might not have given rise to Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, OANN, Newsmax, etc. And those “news sources” – complete with their 24/7 cycle that led to blurring, then completely erasing, the line between news and commentary – might not have fueled that polarization.
But then came social media, which just locked us deeper in our echo chambers, unwilling to hear anything that challenged our beliefs or offered facts we didn’t want to face. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit and others constantly alert us to more posts that do nothing but confirm and validate the thoughts and feelings created by the ones that came before them. They also lead us down an internet rabbit hole to more and more dangerous sites that feed paranoia and fuel extremism on both sides of the political spectrum.
So what do we do now? First, we have to commit to break this cycle of addiction. If we truly want to avoid another scene like we witnessed Wednesday, we have to cut the cords that keep us tied to information sources that feed us only what we want to hear. We have to once again use Facebook for spreading joy, love and positive experiences, and stop blasting our family and “friends” for their political ideology. We have to start talking – and, more importantly, listening – to each other again.
At the same time, we have to insist the people we elect to represent us work across the aisle to achieve results that benefit ALL Americans, not just members of their own party or those who fund their campaigns. We don’t expect them to sit in a circle and sing “Kumbaya;” disagreement is a healthy part of governing. But we do expect them to treat one another with respect; stop the constant grandstanding and fundraising; and negotiate, compromise and act decisively in ways that leave no one behind.
Rather than making laws that widen the gaps between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” we must elect leaders who will work to close that breach. Rather than sowing the seeds of division that lead to chaos, we must insist they search for common ground. Rather than letting them spew hatred, we must insist they return to diplomacy; if they refuse, we must elect people who will. Because the alternative is too frightening to consider.
Amid the hours of analysis that poured out of the talking heads of nearly every major network this week, there was one chilling statement that we can’t seem to shake: “It could have been so much worse.”
That’s true. But whether it was five or 5,000, the sad reality is people needlessly died on Capitol Hill at the hands of people who, at the end of the day, probably wanted the same thing as the perpetrators of these heinous acts – a secure home, a decent wage, good health care, etc. But somehow, instead of working together for the common good, the politics of division led to chaos and destruction.
The question for all of us is whether we want to repeat the experiences of the past week or whether it’s time to finally say “Enough.” We sincerely hope and pray, for the good of our country and everyone who calls it home, it’s the latter.