In the debris of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack Americans are left asking, “Where do we go from here?” Because while the Capitol still stands, the state of American democracy seems a little less solid. Obviously, the President and his loyalists must be held accountable for their actions in inciting this attack. They must be stripped of their power and barred from ever serving public office. They must be brought to justice.
But that is only part of the solution. Deeper and more haunting questions still linger: What do we do when our fellow Americans turn against the values of their country? What do we do when they have been led astray and don’t seem to want to come back? As someone who is young, overly optimistic, has both a deep fascination and reverence for American history and politics, and who also happens to study human psychology I can presently see five important actions that must be undertaken if we are to heal as a country.
The first is that we must face the current political climate head on. While this may seem like it would be easier to do after Jan. 20, it must happen now. We must treat America and her democracy as a marriage, one in which there can be no divorce. The democratic ideals on which this country is built are woven so tightly into the fabric of America that to try to separate the two would be to unravel the other. It is because of this that there is no other path to take than the one that leads forward. We must confront our differences.
We must address our different hurts, angers, and fears. This involves confronting our emotions about this election. The left must recognize that for 74 million Americans, Donald Trump’s presidency promised safety from a growing number of threats, even though they were threats he drummed up. By continuously drumming up fears and then offering himself as the antidote to them, Trump convinced his base that he was the one thing that stood between them and a very dangerous world. Make no mistake, this is a popular tactic used among serial abusers and cult leaders, as well as dictators and strongmen. It is popular because it is so successful. By continuously applying and then releasing intense psychological pressure, Trump has conditioned his base to turn to him for safety.
Not to be ignored, however, are those on the right who must recognize that for 81 million Americans, the rhetoric of Donald Trump was unacceptable, and his presidency was viewed as incompetent and dangerous. The right must ask themselves why it is that 81 million Americans voted against Trump. They must ask themselves why it is Trump lost the popular vote both times. Could it be because the left saw something the right missed? Could it be because the left recognized his rhetoric as divisive and his behavior as self-aggrandizing and dictatorial? It is only by confronting our differences that we can begin to heal. But to confront these differences honestly and effectively we need to be able to communicate.
That is why the second step in our long journey towards healing is communication. More specifically, we must look at what we are communicating and where are getting our talking points from. We, as a country, must have a serious conversation about how we balance our rights to freedom of speech with our responsibilities to it. Yes, we have a right to free speech, but we also have a responsibility to keep that speech safe. We have a responsibility to make sure that our opinions of the world are at least oriented by facts. And who among us would not like a more accurate and informed opinion? After all, individual opinions are inexplicably valuable in a democracy. They set the stage for debate, the hallmark of the democratic process. The facts, therefore, give us a common ground from which we can diverge to form our opinions. Therefore, we must be cautious of the types of media we consume. We should not look to fringe media groups to tell us the truth. Rather, we should seek to get our information from reliable news outlets- outlets like NPR and PBS. Because just as individual opinions lead to a more perfect union, ill-informed and misguided opinions that spread rapidly and promote hate, lead to ruin.
Furthermore, we must recognize these types of dangerous ideas when they emerge, and we must take a vow to guard our minds against them with reason and logic. Ideas that are based in fact can stand up to critical thinking and scrutiny. That is why, while it may be noble to break away from popular thought in favor of individual ideas, it is important that we make sure we can support those ideas with information that can be independently verified. We must train ourselves to be literate in the scientific process so that we do not look at an absence of evidence as proof of a conspiracy, but rather be willing to see the mountains of evidence that contradicts what so many of these extreme groups are espousing.
Third, we must meet our fellow Americans where they are. We must extend ourselves across party lines and begin the process of reconciliation. But as I said in the beginning of my letter, this does not mean we stop the pursuit of justice against those responsible for inciting this attack. Those in power must be held responsible. However, what about those who followed the marching orders? What about those who obeyed, complied, and conformed? Certainly, they must be brought to justice under the law. But isn’t it also important that we recognize that any human being is subject to radicalization given the right circumstances? No one is completely safe from the darker urges of implicit and explicit bias. We must keep in mind that members of radical groups are in many ways victims themselves. They are the victims of lies, of false information, all perpetrated by those in positions of power. We must remember that our quarrel is not with our fellow Americans, who have been deceived, but with the people in power who perpetrated the deception. It is those high-ranking officials which bear the ultimate responsibility. And just as they can be radicalized, they can be deradicalized. Extreme views can be replaced with moderate views. Fear can subside. And harsh politics can be traded in for more inclusive and kinder beliefs. It takes some time, but it can happen.
That brings us to our fourth endeavor; we must create a political environment that fosters unity instead of division. We must elect officials who value and encourage critical thinking and who listen to the facts. We must relearn that democracy is a synonym for unity, and we must bring a renewed sense of unity into American politics. We must overcome partisanship. Because America is at its best when we work together. It is for this reason that George Washington warned against forming political parties in his farewell address; he saw parties as antithetical to the cause of democracy. To bring back this sense of unity we must elect leaders in both parties who encourage compromise. To have two resolute political parties, while it may appear balanced, is only another cause for division. By entrenching ourselves in party lines we subject ourselves to unprecedented biases. We immediately view any policy raised by the other party with skepticism and disdain. We put ourselves constantly on guard of the other instead of working together. We must stop seeing parties and instead see people. We must build a moderate congress. We must stop voting for those who scream the loudest and instead vote for those who speak the truth, even when we don’t like to hear it. We should always vote for candidates that seek to protect the rights of all and who seek to unify the people, not divide them. We should all be able to agree on the basic principles of human rights and equality. And we should be able disagree on other subjects while still recognizing the humanity in the other. We should be able to laugh while we debate.
And finally, we must recognize the profound importance that can be seen in the simple and sometimes almost trivial workings of our democracy. We must recognize the importance and power of simple customs. We must recognize that we are a nation of laws, but also a nation of unspoken truths. The two go hand in hand and Lady Liberty balances them perfectly. We must reinfuse our government with the same dedication to rational thought that our forefathers had when they wrote that the truths of our democracy were “self-evident.” Because while their logic was certainly flawed in many places, they at least understood that attitudes and thinking would change over time. They recognized that democracy required constant scrutiny and revising to ensure justice and equality, to ensure a more perfect union. They knew that times and attitudes would change. They knew that what worked then may not work later, and so they crafted the constitution to be amendable. They ensured that, should America ever find itself at a crossroad in its history, the ideas enshrined in our constitution would lend themselves to the times and would bend with them to advance the pursuit of justice- the pursuit of unity.
And now, like it has so many other times in its history, the current climate in America finds itself at a crossroad. Many of us may feel lost, but it is because of our country’s history that I feel certain we will choose the right path. It is my belief that the American people’s better angels will win out and America will once again unite to strengthen the bonds of our democracy, to bend the moral arc of the universe, and to form a more perfect union as it has so many times before.
* * *
Rarely in my 63 years have I so identified with a public statement from another citizen as I do with this excellent editorial from Byron Russell.
For the last four years I have been working with a bi-partisan group of distinguished national leaders on restoring confidence in government.
Obviously things have gotten worse not better during this administration but hopefully the pendulum has hit the wall.
Last week's assault on the U.S. Capitol should be a red alert to many in our still great nation for the need to come together around shared values, standards and expectations.
While it doesn’t appear so from last week's seditious attack, we all have a lot more in common than we do separating us but leadership is sorely lacking in both parties at the national level to reset norms and unify once again.
Our national motto is E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). We can all be very different yet still have a sense of responsibility and shared commitment to freedom if we follow the words of Byron Russell.
Our democratic Republic is resilient in many ways yet fragile in others. We must protect it or lose it.
Mr. Russell well articulated what must be done to restore the United States of America. Not sure who he is or where he lives, but I ask that he reach out to me so we might join hands to make America the “shining city on a hill” once again.
Member of U.S. Congress 1995-2011
* * *
I must say that I am amazed and delighted after reading this article from this young man Mr. Russell. Its just, I am at a loss for words, how he explained all that we once were and how we could become again. The actual plan of our forefathers to create the most powerful, most wonderful nation on this planet was planned and how we have strayed from it.
While some of us who submit opinion pieces on this medium I find that we always disagree on things and that is what his article is trying to correct. We are all the same and feel our love to this country the same way so why are we divided by political parties.
This young man just gave us the answer. Why don't we begin to practice his ideas and discuss and not fight over differing opinions and come to reasonable solutions that benefit us all.
Thank you, Mr. Russell, for one of the best articles I think I have ever read. You are a smart young man that should get into politics because we need so many more people with your reasoning and ideas. God Bless You.
* * *
You have written one of the most naive responses to the current constitutional crises I have ever read. Mr. Wamp, a former U.S. representative and Sunday School teacher and Mr. Duggan sho uld both re-examine the positions they have espoused in the past before siding with leftist Democrats.
Here's a point by point refutation:
1. The first is that we must face the current political climate head on. Here's where we are-Leftist Democrats now hold the House, Senate and presidency. They have forged an intimate partnership with all media and Big Tech (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Amazon et al). Big Tech is shadow banning and deleting ALL conservatives from their platforms as well as sites such as Parler. This is being done to censor and silence all opposition; an act of totalitarian oppression applauded by leftist politicians. Mr. Wamp/Russell/Duggan do you favor totalitarian oppression? Do you accept Big Tech censorship?
2. We must address our different hurts, angers, and fears. This involves confronting reality of this election. The left must recognize that for all Americans, Donald Trump’s presidency was a giant step forward. The power of the American economy was unleashed and ALL Americans benefited. Needless regulations that block progress for highway improvement, bridges, employees and businesses were rolled back. Manufacturing jobs returned to our shores to employ Americans causing unemployment figures to plummet to all time record lows. Never forget under Donald Trump we became energy independent!
Americans support Donald Trump because he articulates what we believe and feel in our hearts and guts not due to any psychological pressure. Continuously drumming up fears and then offering constitutional crushing solutions is a tactic of Leftist Democrats--exactly what is in control today. Since you mentioned the popular vote, the Electoral Voting system was invented by our founders as a means of representation and fairness to prevent the popular vote from electing our president. Are you wiser than our founders Mr. Russell? Probably not. In case you have forgotten we have a democratic republic, not a democracy.
3. That is why the second step in our long journey towards healing is communication. You must be the most naive person on earth suggesting we get our facts from NPR and PBS! Our media have been on a crusade to destroy truth and to morph facts to suite any narrative they choose. Our media has destroyed journalism exchanging it for agenda driven advocacy. Most all media operates on agendas to one degree or another.
4. We must train ourselves to be literate in the scientific process so that we do not look at an absence of evidence as proof of a conspiracy, but rather be willing to see the mountains of evidence that contradicts what so many of these extreme groups are espousing. Do you know what a scientific process is? So literally the status quo position is always the correct one regardless of the facts? If you are referencing the 2020 presidential election there is more than enough proof that cheating occurred. Scientific Process: Define purpose, Construct hypothesis, Test the hypothesis and collect data, Analyze data, Draw conclusion and Communicate results. Try it, you may like it.
5. That brings us to our fourth endeavor; we must create a political environment that fosters unity instead of division. The basis of Leftist Democrat policy has been dividing everyone into identity groups; nothing has been more divisive. We are a nation of Americans, a melting pot of many ethnic groups if unity is to be achieved Leftists must abandon their identity group policy. Intersectionality is another hallmark of liberals, giving value to persons via sex, ethnicity, race etc., this too must be abandoned if we expect to achieve unity.
6. And finally, we must recognize the profound importance that can be seen in the simple and sometimes almost trivial workings of our democracy.
God was important when men and women of conviction founded this nation. Where is God today? He's not in the hating of President Trump. He's not in the cancelling of conservatives from social media. God is not in dividing America via race, sexual orientation or identity groups used for political advantage! If we expect our nation to unite we will have to humble ourselves before God, ask his forgiveness and seek his guidance in order to establish a true and lasting United States of America. We must re-establish moral, political and economic opportunity for all citizens.
Comments are invited.
Walter (Doug) Howerton
* * *
Sure, Mr. Russel's letter is naïve. But not for the reasons Mr. Howerton suggests. Mr. Russell's letter is naïve because it requires those who share Mr. Howerton's views to step back from the propaganda they are absorbing in the bubbles they have built. They need to witness to truth. These truths include:
Free and fair elections are foundational to a Constitutional republic. Therefore, claims of election fraud are extremely serious and must be accompanied by provable fact. To date, no material facts have emerged to support the assertion the results of the most recent Presidential election are fraudulent. Claims they were fraudulent have been examined and unanimously rejected by multiple state election officials, multiple state legislatures, and multiple state and federal courts. Just because a segment of the population wants to believe the election was rigged (and the loser constantly claims as such in every forum afforded him) does not make it so because, in a nation of laws, such wrongdoing must be proven.
“Conservative voices” are not being censored as evidenced by the publication of Mr. Howerton's letter. Voices spouting falsehoods and calling for sedition and violence are being removed from some platforms but none of these actions have been dictated by government.
Media provides information from places that we have no other access. Being of human creation, all media exhibits bias, both in their choice of the facts they present and the manner in which they present them. It is incumbent on the consumer of media to understand this and diversify their sources to ensure they avoid those happy places where what they “believe and feel in their hearts and guts” contradicts reality.
So yes, Mr. Russell's letter is naïve, but not in its prescriptions for a path forward. It is naïve in its assumption that the many who refuse to acknowledge truth have any interest in joining him on that path.