Where do we go from here?
I do my best to refrain from making public statements about US politics, as the country has become highly polarized. I love my country (actually, both my countries) and therefore cannot remain silent. Some weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled “Where are we heading?” Have the almost-unfathomable events that took place in Washington DC a few days ago answered my question? For the sake of my country and its citizens – regardless of race, religion, sexuality or political affiliation – I hope not! I’m struggling to come to terms with what I always considered “unthinkable.” Our nation’s capital was overrun by a mob of hooligans, some of whom were dressed as if they were headed to a masquerade (fancy dress for you Brits out there) instead of a political protest. But worse than that, some of them were armed! Twice in my life, I have sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The first time was when I joined the military and the second was when I joined the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer. Throughout most of my life, the focus was on foreign enemies. The second part about domestic enemies seemed somehow inconceivable to me. Recent events have proven me wrong.
A warning we should heed
I’m not going to pretend that my post predicted this. Nevertheless, it has happened, and the question becomes one of a serious warning to our nation. It is in danger unless we heed this warning. We all seem to believe that our views are the only correct views and that all other opinions are wrong. The US has condemned leaders in countries who used violence and intimidation to interfere in peaceful democratic processes and override the will of their voters for decades. Will the US ever be able to do this again after this spectacle? That remains to be seen. Why do we view those who don’t share our views as “deplorables,” monsters or uneducated? It’s this spirit of “self-righteousness” that fuels polarization. I remember a world where we could discuss different views without becoming outraged and without resorting to violence. Has this world been thrown onto the scrapheap of time?
I have many friends across the full spectrum of political beliefs – from “preppers” and conspiracy-theorists to socialists and communists, and I value their friendship. I don’t think I know any flat-earthers – yet. This post will undoubtedly disappoint maybe even piss off some of them. But whatever their ideas and views, will they remain my friends. We can discuss, debate, disagree and even tease each other but still sit down at the end of the day to break bread and share a beer. Is it possible to return to civilized discourse? Is it possible to entertain another person’s point of view without raging? Is it possible to agree to agree to disagree? Is it possible to stop this trend of doubling down on an opinion and repeating it passionately as the gospel truth? Truthfully, I don’t know. Given all the assassinations and violent protests regarding race and wars that have taken place in the US over time, I sometimes wonder if I’ve been kidding myself. Has the US ever been a nation of tolerance? I would like to hope so, but I’ll let others be the judge of that.
I believe we must begin by striving to become friends again and refusing to hate those who think differently. After all, we don’t know what events or trauma in their lives may have forged their views, just as they know little about our upbringing. We must start by changing ourselves – all of us. We must start by working to make things better for everyone. We must start by learning from this failed assault on our nation’s capital. We must start by holding ourselves and our leaders accountable. We must start by treating each other and the representatives we’ve placed in office with respect. We must start by standing up to social injustice and bullies wherever we find them. We must start by practicing what we preach to our children about values and principles. Although the events that unfolded marked a sad day for democracy, the fact that they failed gives us hope. It would be sad if we didn’t learn from this and move forward. The spectacle that unfolded the at the icon of the American people and government prompted me to listen to a song from 2003 by the Black Eyed Peas, “Where’s The Love?” And after listening to it a few times, I asked myself: Where is it? I’ve seen many notices stating that the storm is coming, as if this was the calm before the storm. My hope is that what we are witnessing now is the “storm before the calm.”