One easy way to respond to events at the Capitol last week is to view them in a narrow timespan, through your own partisan lens and to explain them in words we’ve all been coached to use. For example:
“A bunch of racist, xenophobic, Trump-loving white folks tried to destroy our democracy and thwart the peaceful transition of power, so it’s time to double down on (1) decimating the Republican Party and (2) making sure that anyone with a D next to their name wins in 2021, 2022, 2023 and, undoubtedly, 2024.”
It’s easy to type those words.
It feels good to identify an enemy and plot their electoral demise.
It’s calming to reduce an unprecedented series of events to one run-on sentence.
This is the easy way because it taps into all of the things our brain steers us toward: tribalism, reductionism and confirmation bias.
Sure, there’s some truth to the easy way. Those kernels of truth were correctly called out and identified by a broad range of individuals. Let me be blunt and join a bipartisan group of current and former elected officials: Those who invaded our Capitol deserve to be called domestic terrorists; the FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism makes that clear: “Violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature.”
For all of us, watching those acts unfold was heartbreaking and gut-wrenching, myself included.
Eight years ago, I was a pimpled intern leading tours around the Capitol. When I guided visiting Oregonians around those halls, I couldn’t help but beam. My West Wing dream seemed to be a reality.
Over the past eight years, the nightmare lurking behind that dream has come out of the shadows. Children separated. Families evicted. Communities on the brink of complete financial ruin. All the while, our government stuttered, stammered and skirted its responsibility.
So, of course, I would love to let my anger roil over, cloud my judgment and blame the Capitol attack and the past eight years since my internship on a small group of mad people.
The hard way — the way I aspire to — is to recognize that we’ve all played a part in our slide into chaos.
We’ve let social media divide us. We’ve allowed the loudest voices to command us. We’ve surrendered to the comfort of knowing we’re right. Whether or not we intended it, the result is that many of us — across the political spectrum — feel isolated, persecuted, and separated.
The hard way requires that we zoom out and see that we’ve all been complicit in letting things get this bad.
The hard way requires us all to demand more from one another and, especially, our elected officials.
What can we do for one another?
Step away from social media. These companies profit off our partisanship and benefit from our division.
Burst your own bubble. Schedule a Zoom with someone with a different party affiliation, background or belief system. Don’t be a passive player in a game that’s currently making us all losers.
Make politics local again. Our neighbors are struggling. Our small businesses are failing. Don’t let national news blind you from seeing the good you can do in your community.
What can we ask of our elected officials?
Remember who you represent, not just who voted for you. The current system encourages the latter, but we deserve the former.
Put people, not party, first. Hours every day should not be spent fundraising. Every hour as an elected official should be spent thinking about your constituents, not donors.
Talk to us — all of us! Get off Twitter. Get off Facebook. Stop Twitching. Talk to us via Zoom and, when possible, in person. We deserve more than hashtags and soundbites.
The hard way has a lot of difficult steps. Will you join me and take them?