First, we are wasting time throwing up our arms and repeating again and again that this country is divided and it is a mess. That has never worked, and it certainly is not going to work anymore.
Second, we have to start checking ourselves individually, and institutionally, and start being honest about our contributions to the vitriol.
We’ve had our second shooting attack on Congress in six years. The political parties, pundits and even revered media institutions seem incapable of resisting the urge to participate in the blame game instead of confronting the core problem.
We have allowed politics and ideology to burn bridges we used to navigate our great national divides. We allow party affiliation and income and race to differentiate us when none of those things really matter during a crisis. How will we be able to band and bond together to take on a foreign threat if we aren’t even on speaking terms?
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Rather than speak to each other, our national default is to speak over, around, or use some social media platform to rant, retweet or seek some other kind of digital revenge.
Is this where we want to be? Is this the country we want to hand off to our children and grandchildren?
United States history is full of moments on battlefields where courage came to the rescue. Our flags and monuments and cemeteries remind us from Memorial Day to D-Day to Flag Day to Independence Day and to Veterans Day that we can muster the Right Stuff when we need it the most.
We are good at that.
But we are terrible at recognizing the wounds and casualties of the political war of words and ideals which, if unabated, will eventually take this nation prisoner.
I find it appalling that talk radio entertainers want to score points against Democrats by pretending and conspiring that the Virginia shooter who volunteered for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign is somehow the norm or representative of the party. I find it even more disturbing that The New York Times in an editorial Wednesday tried to link the 2011 Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting — which seriously injured Giffords and claimed six lives including a 9-year-old girl — was somehow linked to Sarah Palin’s political action committee campaign materials that used “crosshairs” imagery. After first making that link, the Times editors issued a correction: “An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly stated that a link existed between political incitement and the 2011 shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords. In fact, no such link was established.”
The talkies and the Times could learn something from Sanders, who frankly and crisply acknowledged the alleged Virginia shooter was a volunteer in his 2016 campaign. He then proceeded to condemn the alleged actions, and all forms of violence aimed at our elected officials.
We could all learn something from the faint collegial moments at the congressional baseball game Thursday. If we could only bottle and dispense this elixir whenever we need a reminder.
What we are failing at today is finding the kind of courage to restore order and civility. This is a heavy lift in a political arena where President Donald Trump careens across the landscape with contradictory messages: speaking of unity after the Virginia shooting, and then leading counter-attack messages toward those who appear hell-bent on neutralizing his presidency.
We have no control over those exchanges, but we do have options. We can refrain from engaging in online discussions that only throw gas on fires of discord, and instead choose to only participate in dialogues that present solutions.
We can look for positive things we can do for our households, our neighborhoods, our places of worship and our communities. We can become examples of civil discourse and demand the same from our elected officials.
“Wednesday’s shooting is just one more dreadful example of how our social norms have completely crumbled. We must take action today to stop the practice of vilifying and demonizing others who hold differing viewpoints or who voted for a different candidate …” wrote Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse (NICD), in a statement. “It’s time for every American to pull back from this profound divisiveness, take a deep breath, and learn to interact with people who differ from us in ways that do not lead to violence.”
The NICD was started after the Giffords shooting. That we are revisiting such an incident today means we haven’t owned up to the threat lurking among us.