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Our View: Patriotism

We must go beyond assertions of ‘fake news’ and seek facts to preserve our capacity to govern

Jan. 6, 2021. Civic trauma engraved this date in my memory, along with Sept. 11, 2001; Nov. 22, 1963; and Dec. 7, 1941.

The earlier events yielded a universal perception of America under assault. But on Jan. 6, hundreds of Americans, some symbolically wrapped in the nation’s flag, attacked our Capitol. They conceived themselves as patriots, seeking to forcibly reverse the outcome of what they believed was the stolen 2020 election. Others wonder why no one dares call them traitors.

What is patriotism in 2022? Puzzling over this question has evoked famous phrases I learned from American history. “We, the People.” “To form a more perfect Union.” “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” I used to think that they comprised our common national heritage, but the crevasses now evident across our society call the proposition into question.

Americans used to debate such divisive issues. The debate over slavery degenerated into a fraternal bloodbath, leaving wounds that still pain the body politic. The deeply contested 2000 election ended with a 5-4 vote of the Supreme Court – and the loser accepting the outcome determined by the laws of the land. After the 2020 election, lower courts dismissed every lawsuit alleging election irregularities. The Supreme Court declined to intervene in the few appeals brought to it. Yet the loser continues to proclaim the election was stolen, asserting that evidence to the contrary is “fake news.”

Is our election system corrupt, or does corruption drive efforts to change it?

In 1983, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, “First, get your facts straight. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Second, decide to live with the facts. Third, resolve to surmount them. Because, fourth, what is at stake is our capacity to govern.” How can we as a nation agree on facts?

Being a citizen in America conveys rights that we celebrate and much of the world admires. It also conveys civic responsibilities, one of which is to vote. Another, I believe, is to behave with civility. These words ultimately derive from the Latin word for city, which also underlies the concept of civilization.

Political divisions today go beyond the differences of opinion about public affairs that Americans customarily have resolved by public debate and voting. Now, partisans demonize the other side. Incivility has emerged from burgeoning hatred.

Will we again take up arms against fellow citizens? If that is unthinkable for most Americans, how can we bridge the widening gap? I believe that the path leading to that bridge is to embrace the notions of civility and civic responsibility. Let us accept that compatriots with whom we disagree are not evil. Our disagreements stem from inability to agree on facts, exacerbated by the social media echo chamber that confirms pre-existing beliefs – for profit. Millions of people agree with you, so you must be right.

The Founders correctly understood the fundamental value to democracy of a free press that would guarantee the possibility of honest debate. However, in these days dominated by the social media, being a citizen – being a patriot – means dedicating yourself to going beyond assertions about “fake news” to seeking facts. A reliable source of political facts outside of the media is VoteSmart.org.

Only if we can begin to agree on the facts of events and about the integrity of our institutions, especially our electoral processes, can we hope to heal the divide.

Will you join me in this quest to restore the America we love? America is beautiful. It also is imperfect, but its history, to paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., is an arc that bends toward justice.

Let us, as American citizens, rededicate ourselves to our ideal, “From many, one.”