Editorial | When American democracy is assaulted

S.A. Shepler (c) 2021 Community Word


Editor’s Note: This message was written Jan. 7, the day after pro-Trump rioters attempted an insurrection and invaded the U.S. Capitol.

Yesterday was a day that should have represented the highest achievement of our republic. This day should have served as the ceremonial recognition of the will of the citizens of the United States to peacefully choose the person who will transition to the presidency through the Constitutionally-defined electoral process. Even though several Senators and Representatives planned to issue challenges, anyone with a cursory understanding of the Constitution understood that plan was little more than letting off steam one final time. The votes representing the will of the citizens of our country had already been duly certified in each and every state before reaching yesterday’s event.

It should distress us all that the day turned out very differently.

For those of us who value discourse over discord, persuasion over coercion, and democracy over authoritarianism, know that you are on the right side of history, of humanity, today and always. The voices of reason ultimately prevailed in the early hours of this morning, and these voices of reason must be supported and amplified.

The world shows us many examples of people who let passion overrule their judgment, who follow leaders more bent on their own glory than on the goodwill of their own people. We, in this republic, are not like those other places in the world, but yesterday showed that we could be. If we allow ourselves to be swayed by information we know to be questionable, or even false; if we fail to call people out when they make misleading statements or lie; if we don’t bother to use our own rational minds to read our Constitution, know our laws, and follow them unless or until we can change them to make them more just, then we will become just like those other places.

When Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer spoke to the World Affairs Councils of America at its national conference in 2018, he made a profound observation that has stayed with me. He noted that many countries, in fact most, have constitutions and laws. The difference between the United States and places like Russia or China is that we believe in our Constitution and have agreed, as a society, to follow the rule of law.

It seems so simple, but that observation is profound. Yesterday, when some in our country called upon the vice president and members of both houses of Congress to override the most important cornerstone of that Constitution, and when rioters stormed the Capitol, OUR house, I feared the worst. Ultimately, the vice president was able to conclude his Constitutional duty. But the edge of my fear remains.

Join me in renewing your commitment to education, engagement and civil discourse. Differences of opinion are a healthy and necessary part of our democratic process, but we must separate opinion from fact. If you haven’t read the Constitution lately, please do. When someone throws a term around, look it up. When someone, even if it is a close someone, says something you know to be false, direct them to the sources that will show them the truth.

Individually, it will be difficult to make a difference. However, in the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” The emphasis is mine – be thoughtful, be informed, change the world with reason and goodwill.

Angela Weck is executive director of the Peoria Area World Affairs Council.

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