It has been too long since we have seen each other.
I’m trying to see you. I see that you are frustrated, that you want a president who is loud enough and bold enough to make people listen. I’m trying to listen but I don’t understand.
I don’t understand your dispute with objective truth. Remember in school, when we had to agree on “the facts” we always used a math example: 2 + 2 = 4. No matter what we had math. Now we don’t even have math. We can’t agree that the person who gets the most votes (by millions) wins an election.
I don’t understand how to talk to you when we don’t share the same reality. I live in the city, you live in the country. I read the New York Times, you watch Fox News. I think your news is biased. You think my news is “fake,” or worse, calculated to undermine democracy. What do we do? The first question you asked me after George Floyd’s death was, “How bad were your riots?” We didn’t have any. I told you the Black Lives Matter rally I went to was peaceful. Do you believe me, or Fox News?
I don’t understand why you believe the media’s characterization of liberals. We woke up at 6am in the summer to pick raspberries together when we were 12 years old. We all worked our butts off during potato harvest to earn money to buy new clothes. Why do you think I don’t value hard work? We both worked hard in school and thought education was our ticket to success. When did education become “elitist?”
I don’t understand why you won’t talk to me anymore. I reached out to you during this election cycle. I didn’t unfriend you but you unfriended me. How can we see each other if you won’t talk to me?
The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
The first time I was called a baby killer was in 1998. I ran as a Democrat for the Idaho State House of Representatives. Against the advice of more seasoned politicians from my party, I agreed to participate on a local talk radio program. The hosts began by saying how curious they found me to be. “On the one hand, you are a Mormon, but on the other hand, you’re also a Democrat. So are you pro-life or pro-choice?” I refused both terms. I said that I found the terms too loaded and too ambiguous to detail my views on an issue as complex as abortion. Before I could explain my position, or how I had arrived at it, the host asked if I supported the current version of a parental consent bill being considered by the legislature. I told her I did not, and began to explain why. The same bill had been passed by neighboring states and had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend in court only to be struck down. Again, I was interrupted before I could articulate what I thought would be a wiser approach. The host said, “So you’re a baby killer then?” I was flummoxed! I couldn’t believe she had gone there without giving me any opportunity to respond. She had passed her judgment, found me unworthy, and moved on. That rush to judgment and pronouncement left me frustrated and resolved not to treat people that way. Few, if any, topics are more controversial or more complex than abortion. Hopefully I can communicate my thoughts on the issue in a way that is thoughtful and not sanctimonious.
My beliefs on the morality of the issue are that “human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God.” This quote comes from a brief statement on abortion from my Church and reflects my own feelings. I believe life is sacred. I am the father of five children, and the grandfather of two. I hoped for, prayed for, and rejoiced with each child’s birth. I cannot imagine my life without them. I think it is wrong to end a pregnancy for personal or social convenience. I believe the power to create life is a sacred trust from God. I would never want to abuse those powers. I believe those who do abuse those powers will stand accountable to God someday.
Here are the problems I have with both political parties on the issue. First, the Democrats as “pro-choice.” This is a party that believes the government can help people make better, more informed choices. The party who thinks it is important to regulate food, drugs, the environment, etc. For this party to say it has no place to tell a woman what to do with her body seems contrary to their core beliefs. Save the whales, forget about the unborn, is hard to make sense of. The party’s position has evolved in recent years. In the 90s, the party’s line was abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Even as late as 2012, the Obama administration was still trying to get traction for a policy that reduced the need for abortions. The new party line seems now more focused on the right to have access to abortion, treating it as a medical procedure only, with no moral or ethical consideration. To be sympathetic to the idea that Black lives matter and yet not the lives of the unborn is intellectually incongruent, to say the least. You should read David Brooks’ piece on this. I agree with him that Democrats have moved too far on this issue. If your fundamental goal as a Democrat is the health and well-being of individuals, ignoring the moral complexities of this issue is irresponsible and (I believe) inconsistent with your ideology.
If Democrats are inconsistent and hypocritical with their position, Republicans are sycophantic and scattered. “Pro-life” means sooo many different things to different people. Here are some of my questions: What would it look like to legally restrict abortion as a means of birth control? Would you arrest providers, or women themselves? Would it be a state ban or a federal one? Would women who left the country to have an abortion be subjected to prosecution upon their return to the US? Would the law view all termination of a pregnancy the same as premeditated murder? I have also known some conservatives to go so far as to think that birth control methods like IUDs were akin to murder. In twenty plus years of talking with my conservative friends and lawmakers about this issue I have never heard or seen a policy from them that answers those questions. “Pro-life” to them seems to mean only an idea of being anti-abortion, which I am sympathetic to, but it doesn’t seem to translate into a clear, working policy. If the goal is to decrease the number of abortions, the data is clear that legally restricting the procedure does not reduce the number of abortions. Additionally, there is fair criticism that the Republican Party is pro-birth not pro-life. By not supporting aid for poor people, their access to healthcare, or the quality of their education, Republicans’ seemingly don’t put equal value or emphasis on life after birth.
I am sympathetic to why people vote exclusively on this issue. The problem for me, however, is neither party has a position that completely coincides with my moral view. In addition, not every candidate from the major parties views the issue in the same way that their party does. Not to mention that I think the parties sometimes feel less interested in honestly doing the right thing for people and more interested in fundraising and maintaining their party line narrative as a way to encourage people to vote for them. I am frustrated by the unwarranted certitude from many on the right and the smug superiority from those on the left. As this PEW data suggests, the vast majority of Americans understand the complexity of this issue. They realize that universal application is unrealistic when considering individual circumstances. The simple soundbites from both parties fail to do justice to the complexities of the issue. It leads me personally to conclude that voting on this one issue alone is not sound reasoning or sound politics.
You can be anti-abortion and think it should be legal. You can oppose abortion and not be a misogynist. I often hear people who say “How can someone be a Democrat? They are for abortion!” Or, “How can someone be a Republican? They hate women!” These logical fallacies do not account for other possibilities. You can be opposed to the criminalization of abortion and also oppose it as a means of birth control. You can both respect the right of a woman to make her own medical choices and still think there are moral consequences for terminating a healthy pregnancy. Likewise, you can acknowledge the moral complexities of terminating a healthy pregnancy and not hate women.
Good news abortion rates are falling. This excellent article explains why abortion rates are lower than they have been in forty years. Turns out, decades of global research indicate that legally restricting abortion is not correlated with a decrease in global abortion rates. Legality has proven largely irrelevant. In fact, “in countries where laws permit abortion only to save the life of the mother, the abortion rate is higher at 37 per 1,000 women than the rate of 34 abortions per 1,000 in countries without such restrictions.” Moreover, countries throughout Latin America—where the most restrictive abortion laws exist—actually have ‘both the highest rate of unintended pregnancies, 96 per 1,000 women, and the highest rate of abortions, 44 per 1,000 women.’ The data is clear. Nations that help women avoid unwanted pregnancies have the lowest abortion rates. If your goal is reducing the number of abortions, focusing on unwanted pregnices is the best way to go about it. Criminalizing abortion is not.
Even if Roe went away abortions wouldn’t. If the United States Supreme Court did away with Roe vs Wade, abortion does not go away, it just moves the decision to the states. Learn more about this here. Doing all we can in a bipartisan way to reduce unintended pregnancies seems the wiser course.
Please stop calling people baby killers and women haters. When you make the claim that Democrats are baby killers and Republicans hate women you lose the credibility that an issue like this deserves. It’s provocative language that is untrue, hurtful and invites division not civility. Also, when we use graphic videos that depict abortions, or use loaded language of moral absolutism, we often do harm to those who have struggled with pregnancy and infertility and a host of other complicated circumstances surrounding this most personal issue. Jeannie Gaffigin, a lifelong Catholic and a conservative, does an excellent job of addressing this in this must read piece.
To single issue voters I have learned from my own experience that politics, public policy and governing are complex. There are hundreds of issues that governments face. Political parties offer an ideological approach more than detailed policy initiatives. That’s beneficial to everyone. It allows for compromise. When we base our entire vote on a single issue, we often do so because we don’t want to engage in the messy complexities and ambiguities that a healthy republic requires.
So now what? I believe both parties could work together to reduce the demand for abortions. However, it will take people breaking out of their polarized partisan views. As with most issues, the first step is being able to talk about the issue in a way that allows those who disagree with us to be heard.
No one has ever given anyone freedom. Freedom has to be wrestled from those who see your gain as their loss. Freedom comes from fighting for power and it’s a messy business.
Reflecting on the life, mission and legacy of John Lewis has brought me both comfort and discomfort. I am grateful and comforted by his example of faith, optimism, patriotism and dedication. I was moved when former President Barack Obama referred to him as “one of the founding fathers of our more perfect union.” What an apt description! My discomfort has come as I reflected on my own life and found my response to the inequities and injustices of life wanting. I can and should do more.
John Lewis was known for coining the phrase “good trouble”. He said, “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” (Tweet June 27, 2018)
I’ve been thinking about “good trouble” and its context in United States history. There have always been those who challenged the status quo and who were vocal about it. To me good trouble means speaking out, and being willing to challenge those forces that seek to prevent us from being what we can be. I, of course, do not approve of violence as a means to an end. However, it is often the byproduct of major movements, it always has been. The Boston tea party and the subsequent revolution were surely not regarded as “good trouble” by the British or loyalists. Many of their fellow colonists were anxious about what a rebellion against Britain would mean. The issue of slavery was settled by powder and ball.The labor movement came as a result of protests over decades, many ending in mass violence and the destruction of property. The women’s suffrage movement was anything but a calm and gentle protest. As Katie Clarke Lemay writes in an excellent NYT article “I think the way we talk about suffrage needs attention. It is so often described in a way that makes it seem kind of dowdy and dour — whereas in fact it is exciting and radical. Women staged one of the longest social reform movements in the history of the United States. This is not a boring history of nagging spinsters; it is a badass history of revolution staged by political geniuses. I think that because they were women, people have hesitated to credit them as such.” Judy Heumann occupied a federal building in San Francisco among other protestors to draw attention to the needs of those with disabilities. Thousands took to the streets to protest during the Stonewall riots which helped bring about change to discriminatory laws that affected the LGBTQ comunity. As Ibram X. Kendi points out in this excellent opinion piece from July 4, 2019 “When Americans struggle for the power to be free, they are afflicting and revolutionizing and refining the United States. They are the Patriots. Patriotism…is resistance.”
No one has ever given anyone freedom. Freedom has to be wrestled from those who see your gain as their loss. Freedom comes from fighting for power and it’s a messy business. We have seen millions of Americans take to the streets over the last few years. Americans who are challenging the status quo. As this report shows, over 90% of the Black Lives Matter protests have been peaceful. I wish it had been 100%. But as concerned as I am about those who resort to violence, I am more concerned with those who seem fixated on the violence and not on the reason for the protests. History has taught us that if our goal is to expand freedom, it will not come easy. It will require us to learn more, say more, and do more. It will require good trouble!
If you are feeling repulsed by politics, you’re not alone. Most of us understand the need to participate in our democracy. However, our current climate is more tribalistic than ever. What we want is a place where we can bring our ideological background, lived experience and skills to address a common problem, yet still collaborate with those of opposing views; working together with the end in mind of reaching the best solution to an agreed-upon problem.
Instead, politics often feels like a blood sport—a grudge match to the death. One where compromising for the greater good has been replaced by winning at all cost. This kind of partisan hunger games is rife with hypocrisy, animosity and breeds an antipathy for politics to the average citizen. It’s easy to blame politicians, the media, wealthy stakeholders and special interests and, in fairness, there is a case to be made against all of them. Attributing blame may help us identify the ill, it does little for the cure. I’m afraid no one is coming to save us. No single candidate, no single election, no single act of Congress will turn the tide of hostile, tribalistic, politics. It’s going to require us to do more–much more than snarky memes, snappy late-night satire, or faux outraged cable news clips. We are going to have to fix this ourselves. Here are three things I am working on:
Being better informed.
Engaging in the process.
Connecting with those I disagree with.
Being informed is going to require more than consuming media outlets that confirm our bias. The issues we face are complex and often confusing. We can’t give 30 seconds to a 30-year problem and think we know anything about it. We have to pay the daily price to understand complex issues. One thing that helps me is try not to get my news from social media. Social media is based on algorithms. It gives us what it thinks we want. Social media pushes us to opinion pieces because they get more likes and shares. Opinion pieces are fine but they lack a depth of reporting. Instead, I have been trying to read the paper more. I subscribe to both the New York Times and Washington Post digitally. I wish I could afford the paper copies (but I still hope to afford retirement someday). Social media also pushes us to the types of stories we like–for me that’s politics and not stories from science, art, culture etc.; going over the paper every day has helped me have a broader perspective. Sadly, social media is also filled with misinformation that spreads like wildfire. This is a quick guide on how to spot fake news.
I also like long form newscasts like NPR’s All Things Considered,Morning Edition and thePBS NewsHour. I know it is hard to find the time in large chunks, but it really makes all the difference. These outlets are free and can be listened to or watched anytime online. Avoiding getting my news primarily from social media has helped me be more informed.
Engaging in the process. It’s been 15+ years since my name has been on a ballot. It’s been nearly ten years since I actively worked on a campaign. I engage candidates directly, infrequently, or not at all. There was a time I used to love to hang out with my local precinct people, knock doors, stuff envelopes and help organize events. Now I don’t even know who my local party chairperson is–not to mention my complete lack of substantive involvement in any local nonpartisan city elections.
Connecting with those I disagree with. I am making some progress here. This has happened both on social media and face-to-face. I have heard over and over again since the last presidential election about how divided we are and that we don’t understand each other. Yet, I have also heard over and over again how people don’t want to talk to others about politics because it is so divisive. We can’t have it both ways. We have to find ways to talk about politics with people we disagree with and not be disagreeable. I sincerely think social media can be a venue for meaningful dialogue, people! I also think we can do this face-to-face. Imagine having a dinner party with the express purpose of talking about a particular issue–looking forward to learning from someone else’s perspective (instead of dreading that you have to have dinner with your crazy right-wing or left-wing relative). Let’s get together and talk about the whole chicken!
I don’t think the answer to our current political dilemma is to avoid politics. I think we have to reshape it. If you are a conservative and feel like your party is unrecognizable in the era of Trump reclaim it! If you are a liberal and think your party has left behind its roots to the working class, or is failing to think big enough don’t walk away, engage. No one is coming to save us. We are the ones we have been waiting for. It’s time for us to reclaim our politics. We will not agree on everything, nor should we. We can, however, agree to put country over party, and good faith 0over bad politics.
I believe when we say ”I just can’t understand why anyone would believe that?” it is an indictment of ourselves not them. I think we all have the responsibility to do our best to try to understand each other. That, of course, doesn’t mean we will agree with each other. I’ve spent the last four years trying to understand why millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump and would vote for him again. Here are some things I have observed:
People want to feel safe. They want to feel like they can make sense of the world. For many, the past feels more secure than the present. They worry that the world they once knew is eroding around them.
They feel like as a nation we have lost our moral compass.
They genuinely care about the unborn and have a deep love of God and country.
They see America as a land of opportunity if you are willing to work for it.
They believe in equality of opportunity and often see government action as a stumbling block to progress.
They feel frustrated by career politicians who seem heavy on words and light on action.
They find the way Mr. Trump speaks authentic, even if they don’t condone all that he says (or tweets).
Many worry that Democrats have a fixation on social justice and big government. They worry that this system rewards laziness and focuses too much on the evils of the past instead of recognizing the progress that’s been made. Many believe that we would be better off if we did not view each other as black or white but as children of God and fellow citizens of the greatest nation on earth.
Most conservatives I know who support Mr. Trump are not sycophants, they see and acknowledge his many personal flaws, but feel more comfortable with him than the Democrats.
Many have no illusions that the Republican party has their best interest at heart. This phrase:“I know the Republicans won’t do anything for me, but I am afraid the Democrats will do something to me.” is something I think resonates with many of my conservative friends. I am sympathetic to many of these views.
Like others, I’m exhausted by the political tribalism we see. It feels like partisan politics has permeated every aspect of our life. What once was something discussed occasionally seems to now be all-encompassing. The fatigue of politics is real and it’s mentally and emotionally draining. Even though I try to understand why people support Mr. Trump, I think he is an existential threat to our Republic. I’m not alone in that assessment. More than two dozen prominent Republicans have not only denounced the President but they have also endorsed his opponent along with dozens of senior staff who served the last three GOP presidential nominees. Perhaps most withering is General James Mattis’ warnings about the dangers of the Trump Presidency:
“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”
I believe we need two strong political parties. I believe we need competing ideas in the marketplace of democracy. I reject the over simplistic caricatures of either party. Political parties give us a mechanism to articulate, debate and put policy into practice, thus proving or refuting our ideas of good governance. The conflict of ideas can lead to statesmanship if conflicting ideas are tempered by shared values. If political parties become about winning and not about ideas we do not engage in healthy democratic debate but instead descend into tribalistic ruin.
So to my fellow liberals, I implore you to do all you can to find common ground with those you disagree with. Mr. Trump no doubt lacks the capacity, judgment and moral character for one who holds such high office, yet here he is, and tens of millions of people voted for him. Spoiler alert: they are all not ignorant, redneck, racist boobs. They have real reasons and real concerns for the country. Many are convinced the negative attention drawn to Mr. Trump is no more than sour grapes by the left for a lost election. Don’t prove them right. If you’re spending more time reading NYT opinion pieces and watching Rachel Maddow than getting to know Trump voters—check your tribalism. Spend some time getting to know why people voted for him. You don’t have to agree with them but you should at least be able to understand where they are coming from.
To my conservative friends: If you think Bill Clinton should have been impeached for lying under oath about an affair, but Mr. Trump has been framed by a partisan witch hunt—check your tribalism. If you dismiss Mr. Trump’s poor leadership, relationship with honesty, racism, corruption and moral character—check your tribalism. Admitting Mr. Trump lacks moral character and leadership doesn’t mean you have to embrace liberalism. Now is the time for your party to own this. The party of Lincoln is being eroded by this presidency, and the future of the Republic is at stake. If you can’t see that, you may be blinded by partisanship.
We can’t let parties divide our attention from the shared core beliefs that this Republic was built on. These are solid ideals that are worth defending. We are better united than divided. We should not agree on everything but we should work together with the same end in mind—that together we can and should “form a more perfect union.”
This week my blog celebrates it’s third birthday. Three years ago when I started, I wanted a place for brief, insightful, thoughtful, analysis and opinion on current events, social issues, politics and life. Short, positive reads that were both accessible and articulate. To a large degree, I think I have accomplished what I set out to do.
I am super grateful for 10,000+ views the blog has received! When I started this I didn’t know if it would have an impact or not. Well, I still don’t really know the impact beyond what it has done for me but I am glad for those of you who have taken the time to read and share my posts. Thanks for sharing this journey with me! I can’t count the times someone has said to me “Thanks for this or that you wrote, it meant a lot to me.” Okay, so I probably could count them, but honestly, it has been more than I can remember and more than I had anticipated.
Something else happened that I did not anticipate. My writing really changed me. I found myself filtering and tempering myself in ways that were both positive and unexpected. When I would feel some kind of indignation and want to quickly go to the keyboard and pound out some snarky response to current events something in me would say, “Don’t do it.” I would ask myself, “Instead of finding a way to blame others, what are you doing to fix the problem? Are you contributing to the animosity or helping to alleviate it?” Instead of trying to ‘fix’ others, the process of writing over the last three years has mostly helped improve me.
When I take a step back from the reactionary lens and allow a more proactive approach, I find that my writing is productive and moves me to action more than demanding action from others. I feel a sense of obligation to deeply think about my position, research it, and talk about what I can do instead of what you should do. That has been a huge blessing in my life!
So to celebrate three years here is a look at some of my most viewed posts:
I’m a Member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and a Liberal and That’s OK. This is by far the most popular thing I have ever written. Over 10% of my total views have been of this post. Ironically, I almost didn’t post it. I thought it was too simple and too personal. I think it speaks to a lot of people. I’ve had a ton of feedback and it is definitely something I need to write more about!Read the post here
Instead of Something Controversial, Let’s Just Talk about Guns and Abortion. These are two separate posts where I take a heated political issue and show that, really, we probably have more common ground on it than we think we do. I have ideas for more of these. I just need to write them!Read the post about guns hereRead the post about abortion here
I Am Patriotic, Just Not Like That. This has been one of my most popular posts. I don’t why. Perhaps because it tells a personal story that resonates with so many.Read the post here
To the Class of 2020, You’re Our Heroes. Here is a bonus post from 2020. It was sadly not viewed much at all. Mostly, (I think), because I shared it via social media late on a Friday the same day I had already posted. I wish it had been seen more. I really like it! (Which is rare, I struggle to like much of what I write). You can read the post here.
Thanks again for reading and sharing the posts! It really has been a learning journey, one that I am excited to continue! Can’t wait to see what the next year brings!
Imagine a Germany in 2020, that refused to let Jews vote. What if 70+ years after the liberation of concentration camps, Jews were being hung by citizen mobs or synagogues were being bombed? Imagine separate drinking fountains, separate toilets, separate schools, and restaurants that refused service to Jews. Imagine the systematic oppression of a people 70 years after the costliest war in human history was fought to end such oppression. It’s unthinkable. Yet, it’s exactly what happened in the United States post Civil War. Slavery is the United States’ original sin. From the beginning of the constitution, with the3/5 clause and the defense of slavery as an institution, it is clear the United States bares the burden of this great evil.
Nearly eighty years after the constitution was in place,Lincoln knew that waiting for the “better angels” of men’s soul to end the evil practice of slavery would not happen; it would take powder and ball. “Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.” The Civil War was not the end of atoning for the evil of slavery—it was the tardy, forced beginning. The brief period ofReconstruction was followed by decades of denial of the sin and perpetuation of the evil notion that one race had higher value to God than another.Jim Crow,Plessy vs. Ferguson,lynching, and the systematic, systemic oppression of black people was full evidence that the United States had not moved beyond slavery or atoned for the sin, they simply changed the way it looked. We know we still suffer from systemic racism in employment, economics,housing, education, criminal justice and almost every aspect of American life. Hundreds of years of racial inequality cannot be overcome by only restoring voting rights and ending legal segregation.
What does this have to do with Germany? Fast forward to today when controversy swells aboutremoving confederate monuments and retiring the confederate flag in all its forms. Many voices some from the highest level of government decry taking down these monuments as if it will somehow erase our history. If we are worried that we need to preserve our history, let’s do it! Let’s not rewrite it, and as was the intent of theDaughters of the Confederacy who put up most of the confederate monuments between 1890-1930 . Let’s talk about the history of slavery like the Germans have reconciled the Holocaust post WWII. Let’s finally not just admit slavery and the systematic oppression of black people is wrong, let’s reconcile it.
If you want monuments so we can remember our history, let’s put a marker every place that had a lynching. A plaque every place a segregated school or business stood. How about a marker for every polling place that denied people the right to vote? These markers would not be designed to inflict guilt for the sins of the past but to take ownership of the evil, reconcile it, remember it and commit to never repeat it. This reconciliation for Germany was not immediate, it was painful and it took time as Joshua Zeitz points out in hisPolitico piece:“The generation of Germans that came of age in the 1970s and 1980s confronted the country’s Nazi past and forcefully repudiated it. It took several decades of hard self-reflection, but a reunified Germany emerged from the Cold War as one of the great mainstays of democracy and human rights.”
It’s a sad legacy that Dr. King was fighting for equal rights a century after the Civil War. It’s disheartening today that we still can’t fully acknowledge and reconcile our racist past and present. We can’t let white fragility stop us from doing the right thing.
Ignoring our need for reconciliation leaves the wounds to fester. We must do better than that. Have the Germans arrived to a point where the pain of WWll is swallowed up and healed forever? Of course not. Are they further along than we are? Are there lessons there for us to learn from them? Certainly!
Like you, I’ve spent the better part the last few weeks wearing a mask. At first I felt awkward and uncomfortable. As time went on, however, I became accustomed to wearing it. We wear these masks primarily to protect ourselves from unconsciously infecting others. It is an act of solidarity, our way of showing that we care about each other.
Traditionally, we associate masks with covering, changing or hiding our identity. They have a nefarious feel about them, not an altruistic one. We use the terms “unmasking someone or something” to mean we expose its identity or true purpose. So in a poignant, and somewhat ironic, way, we see our current season of mask-wearing as a much needed unmasking of America. This tiny bug that is causing such big problems is showing us who we really are. What we see should move us all to action.
We see that we live in a nation that undervalues its own citizens. A nation whose power and riches have been consolidated to the few, while the many have been left behind. We see a polarized, tribalistic, dysfunctional politics. Most troubling, we see, almost daily, the unmasked, naked racism that still exists in this country. So, this pandemic has caused us to wear masks but it has also unmasked us. Now unmasked it’s time to ask some serious questions:
Do we want to live in a country where millions live in fear daily because of the color of their skin?
What can we do? We can be more informed. We can vote, we can donate, we can stop blaming them and start fixing us. We can listen more and talk less. We can learn to engage and learn from those we disagree with. We can be honest with ourselves, and begin to make the changes necessary to build the nation we want. A nation that is committed to living up to its potential and its grand ideals. A nation that embraces the unmasking of itself. We can do our part to become a nation and a people who refuse to hide their sins and shortcomings behind the masks of indifference, fear, blame and ignorance.
What a challenging time we live in! We are simultaneously fighting two pandemics. COVID-19, and, the dangerous misinformation that has come with it. Both are deadly, and both spread very easily. Like you, I have been paying special attention to the news and am constantly praying for the sick, healthcare workers and everyone that has been affected by this global pandemic. Also, sadly, I’ve seen so much disinformation spread about this pandemic on social media. I really appreciate the insight in this great article from the PBS NewsHour. It helped me see why times like this are so fraught with misinformation.
“Uncertainty is inherent to the problem,” said Kate Starbird, an associate professor at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Center for an Informed Public. “We don’t know certain basic things about the virus, and we don’t know when certain treatments are going to be available”…For weeks, COVID-19 has dominated news coverage, inundating the public with near constant updates about the virus and its widespread impact as scientists’ understanding of it has changed in real-time…“We don’t have experts on COVID-19, because it literally just emerged four months ago,” said Dhavan Shah, the director of the Mass Communication Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The facts are shifting so quickly…With what Shah called the “unique challenge” for public health officials trying to stay up to date, it’s no surprise that people are seeking out any information to make sense out of the confusion, leading some to dubious sources or claims.”
I’m sympathetic to people’s worries and insecurities. It’s completely understandable that we all want to look for information that gives us understanding. However, just like being in large crowds makes it more likely to spread the COVID-19 virus, social media has made it easier to spread dangerous misinformation. According to this 2018 study, misinformation spreads on social media six times faster than the truth does!
We know we can help stop the spread of the virus by washing our hands, avoiding contact with others and exercising good hygiene and social distancing. What can we do to help stop the spread of misinformation on social media?
“… prioritize information coming directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and state and local officials about the spread and response to COVID-19. Both the CDC and WHO provide daily reports on the number of confirmed virus cases, as well as up-to-date resources and research on the disease. While it can be difficult to sift through information on social media, announcements coming directly from the social media accounts of your governor, for example, can likely be trusted.”
We have probably all seen the misinformation on social media. From bogus conspiracy theories on how the virus began, to faux cures, and even the comparison of government quarantine efforts to the holocaust. We each need to do our part to lessen the spread of both of these modern plagues.
I have little patience for armchair quarterbacking. Being a critic is cheap. A crisis like we are seeing with COVID-19 will test all of our leadership skills. Looking for blame will do little to help the situation. Donald Trump and other government leaders are not responsible for this virus. I think we all have to be patient as we work to manage this crisis. No matter how much planning and preparation we do there will always be missteps, miscalculations and mistakes.
One of the hallmarks of leadership is how one responds under pressure and how one owns the problem. During World War II, President Harry Truman kept a sign in the Oval Office that read “The Buck Stops Here.” Good leaders don’t blame others for problems, they go to work to find solutions. A companion principle is accountability. Leaders are eager to know how and what went wrong so they can fix it. The coronavirus is an unparalleled crisis in our time. It has required unprecedented leadership.
Mr. Trump has provided unprecedented leadership, but, sadly, it has been unprecedentedly poor leadership. He not only refuses to take any responsibility for the handling of the crisis, he looks for every opportunity to blame others. Instead of “the Buck Stops Here,” we see a passing of the buck. Blaming and abusing the media, gaslighting the World Health Organization, as well as projecting his own failures on governors and others. He has refused to acknowledge where mistakes have been made and shows a disdain for facts. His press events are more like campaign rallies, filled with lies and scapegoating. His dismissal of the crisis early on, and the lack of tests, health care equipment etc., could be chalked up to understandable mismanagement, if it wasn’t for the constant lies, blaming and shaming (for a thorough time line of Mr. Trumps reactions to the virus check out this three partseries from Steven Harper).
Some of you will read this and think I am making a partisan attack. However, a crisis like this cuts through party lines. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in liberal Massachusetts, has had wide bipartisan support during the crisis. So has Andy Beshear, a Democrat in deep red Kentucky, and Larry Hogan, a Republican in liberal Maryland. All of these governors have approval ratings in the 70s or 80s. Republican Governor Herbert of Utah, and Governor DeWine of Ohio have received national bipartisan praise, as have Democratic Governors Cuomo and Newsom of New York and California. Why? Because they have exhibited the kind of leadership that we need in a moment of crisis.
No doubt there will be a congressional panel that it will look into the national mismanagement of this crisis. Historians and other academics will expose in great detail why our response was so inferior compared to places like Germany, Iceland, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. We will not need to wait for those reports to confirm what we see everyday coming from the White House: a void of leadership looking to absolve itself of any responsibility or accountability for this crisis.