Sisters Talking On . . . The Riot at the Capitol

Point for Discussion

Wednesday’s events in our nation will be something not soon forgotten. It should not be forgotten.  We must use it as a learning moment.  What can we learn from it?  Words matter.  Temperament matters. Democracy matters.

Our Points of View

(Lynn)

For the past four years, a large portion of the American public has supported our current President in all actions. He has somehow persuaded many members of Congress and several members of his Cabinet to believe what he says even though many of his words were untrue.  In fact, he has not changed at all throughout his term as President.  He did, however, take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.  While that document allows all of us to the right to think and say what we want, the President of the United States has been expected to set a higher standard which this President declined to do almost from day one.

The incitement of violence began with his America First inauguration speech. This fed into the feelings of many older Americans who firmly believe that progress, or at least the progress they’ve seen in the US, is not good.  They want the America they grew up in to return.  Unfortunately, this is not going to happen.  Progress will continue.  To go back to an earlier period in our nation’s history is not necessarily the best idea though I am certain that many would disagree. America, like many other nations, has blemishes in its past that we must never forget.

Did we have any idea this could happen?  If we were paying attention, yes.  For four years, this President has been enabled by those that felt they could benefit by sucking up to this man. He claims to love this country.  But we should remember that actions will always speak louder than words. 

Donald Trump has been a very public figure for much of his adult life.  He reveled in the adoration of his supporters while using them to achieve his personal goals.  We have seen in the news that many of his meetings with his Cabinet and others, began with a love fest.  Those in attendance felt obligated to compliment their President and stroke his ego before business was conducted.  Even more shocking, he has been frustrated that he had not been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which for some reason he believes he has earned.  There is no longer any question about that.  Never.  Going.  To.  Happen.

So what can we learn from this?

We need to look at ourselves as Americans and at our democracy.  We live in a country that we control.  The US is a nation run by the people. As an average American, my vote is how I express my opinion about how this country should be run.  While the system isn’t perfect, it’s better than life, especially for women, would be in many developing nations.

Our system affords us the privilege and right to vote for those who will represent us in government.  We need to choose wisely. This choice should be made based on facts.  It is not a popularity contest. Charisma, while important in a leader, should not be the reason we vote for someone.  This is not our student government where no real damage can be done.  This is the leadership in a modern world where real work must be done.  And as we learned the other day, words can cause chaos, mayhem, and real damage.  Any elected official should put country first over their potential reelection. In recent years, we have not seen this. Our military has defended our democracy since its inception.  Have these efforts been in vain?  I certainly hope not.  I thank all for their service and sacrifice to preserve and defend our democracy.

The single most important thing we can do is vote.  More Americans participated in this Presidential election than ever have before.  This may have been because voting was made more accessible for those who may have had difficulty getting to the polls in the past.  Absentee ballots were available for anyone who wanted one, and many Americans took advantage of this availability to make their voices heard.  Whether you agree with mail-in voting or not, this allowed for more of the people to participate in their government, one of our fundamental democratic rights.

One of the more important aspects of this process though is the character of our elected representatives. There was a lot of discussion about character before, during and after the 2016 Presidential election cycle.  I have spoken to many people who have clearly said that while our current President is not a likable person, they deeply believe that he has helped them in many ways.  Everyone has a right to their own opinion. No one has the right to take that away from them.  What would be helpful though is the seeking of truth before we pass judgement on wide swaths of the population.

After Wednesday’s events, incited by the words of our current President, we should take a step back and consider how we go forward from here. Clearly, presidential sedition is unacceptable.  And sedition, fed to white supremacists and other hate groups, is clearly incendiary.

Somehow, we need to move forward.  What can we do to reduce the risk of this happening again?  We can start by asking a lot of questions before we vote.

We can start with the character of the person we plan to vote for.  Public servitude is not easy.  Constituents expect that their representatives will be there for them regardless of the issue.  Before running for office, our candidates need to accept this expectation. So they need to be willing to work hard.  In addition, our candidates need to be honest about who they are and what they stand for.  And here is where actions may speak louder than words.  One of the most important things that I learned in my corporate role is that there are no secrets.  Social media has made that more obvious to everyone.  There are cameras and recording devices on every corner and in everyone’s pocket.  Someone is always watching and clips will be posted on social media.  We learned this before the 2016 election and chose to ignore what we saw, electing Donald Trump anyway.  We should ask ourselves if the candidate is someone we would have over for dinner even if they have nothing to offer us in return.  If the answer is no, perhaps electing them to higher office is not the best idea.

We need candidates that will be honest with themselves and the American people.  We should not be electing officials that live in fantasy world of their own creation.  “Alternative Facts” are just lies.  Lies are recognizable if we do just a tiny bit of internet research.  We teach our children not to lie.  Why would we accept that in our government representation?  We deserve to know what’s going on and our representatives must remember that they work for us.  Our taxes pay them.  We the people.

Temperament is a huge issue, for me anyway.  The Presidency is a hard job.  People will criticize you relentlessly because, as we all know, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  A President must have a thick skin. Our current President has behaved like a petulant child since the day he was inaugurated. If he doesn’t get what we wants, he lashes out.  If someone opposes him, they are shamed and fired.  If the news reporting is unfavorable, it’s fake news.  There is no self-examination.  There is no introspection to see if a situation could have been handled differently. All we’ve seen is a man whose primary desire is to be loved by his supporters.  Having his ego stroked appears to be his primary daily objective.  Once he became aware of the specific groups that adored him, he played to those groups specifically, the rest of us be damned. 

Our Congressional leaders should have worked harder to discredit these followers as undemocratic and stood up as the checks and balances the founding fathers established.  What good are separate branches of government if they all pander to a bully that fires everyone that opposes him?  Our elected President is not a monarch.  And for all of Congress, they are elected by the American people.  The President can’t fire them, but we can.

Two more critical items on my list are empathy and humility.  I’m pretty sure that our current President possesses neither of these qualities.  He’s never exhibited them anyway.  He says he cares about all of us.  Really?  Not believable at all. Fact is, he really cares about himself, maybe his immediate family.  The rest of us apparently exist to serve his purposes. We should ask ourselves if our chosen candidate would return the favor. And maybe go further and ask if he would do what he is asking his supporters to do. 

Our candidates need to be patriots.  I see patriots as people who truly believe in and are willing to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Our military is full of patriots. They serve to protect our democracy on behalf of ALL of us.  Our candidates need to serve all of us as well.  They don’t get to pick and choose who they serve, excluding those that voted for the other candidate. 

We need to do a lot of soul searching before we allow this to happen again.  The power rests in our hands.  We should never squander the opportunity.  Let’s take it very seriously and not allow this to happen again any time soon.

(Laurie)

I agree with Lynn that this has definitely been a learning moment, at least for me.  I learned three main things:

1. It can happen – even in America.

I have been shocked by the events of the week – shocked that people believe so strongly that widespread election fraud was committed, shocked that our President encouraged violence, and further shocked by the protestors who mocked and invaded our home of democracy (with smiles and paint on their faces)…and shocked this occurred here in America…with the world watching.  There are no words….and it could have been much worse.  This is not the America I grew up with or expected to age in.  We can do better.

2. Our checks and balances in government are not as effective as we need them to be.

Neither a President, nor any elected representative, should be able to go this far in defaming our country or taking executive actions (or legislative actions) that trample on our institutions and values.  The legislative branch should be policing the executive branch to keep us in balance (text book basics).  We can blame the top executive, but we know power can go to their heads, so the counter-balance is needed and built in – not just for preventing a riot like this to occur, but to address a pandemic as well.  The legislative branch, if the Cabinet won’t do their job of reining in a chief executive, should persist to ensure that people are first and politics are second (or third…) and should acknowledge and act on truths of the day.

In addition, the recourse we have appears to be limited – impeachment may not pass the Senate (or be brought up to a vote), the 25th Amendment takes at least a week, which is nearly the end of the current term – so other than public shame, which doesn’t seem to matter, the President will likely use this time to kick-off a future campaign that builds further upon this rhetoric in “building his base.”   It should be a priority to legislate clearer boundaries of presidential power and clarify when individuals are enabled or barred from future public service.

I am hopeful that the Republican Party will step up to the challenge and shape their own future on behalf of the people who elect them to office.

3. We need greater protection as a nation.

This is just the next thing that happened – after a pandemic that is still raging, after a cyber hack that is still creating damage, we have a politically-charged mob gain entry to the Capitol, trampling each other and causing havoc.  We need national contingency plans for the things that are happening that we never thought would happen.  We haven’t even identified the next thing because these are so unbelievable to us. 

Strong leaders will have a strong team who will anticipate these potential threats and build national contingency plans to protect us.  We must anticipate potential threats and provide national guidance rather than demanding 50 different plans and implementations.  We should not be in a position at the start of a crises where we ask “what should we do.”  We should know “let’s do this.”

And as a researcher, I also confirmed something, sadly, but what I have always known and respected:

People have their own opinions and we will not be able to – nor should we – change their minds.  It is a free country.  It’s up to them and their support systems to have the discussions and debates.  We can get angry (and we are), and we can scream at the TV (which we do), and we can cry tears of disbelief (they are falling), but we will not be able to change deep-rooted beliefs people have.  We need to make sure we do not incite it (and certainly not by those at the top of government) and that we counter with facts (as many keep trying to do every day). 

AND we need to help to ensure young people growing up this country do not develop these beliefs to begin with. That’s where I think efforts should focus.

What we have experienced in this last year alone is not who we are or who we will be.  There are many bright spots that show who we can be – scientists developing vaccines in record time, teachers pivoting to online instruction, neighbors helping neighbors, doctors and nurses saving lives, parents being asked to do so much more than they signed up for, and so much more powerful evidence every day! 

 Our Question for You

Rather than look at this week’s events as right or wrong, we should recognize that challenges to our democracy will continue to exist and bubble up from time to time (hopefully not instigated by our elected leaders!).  How strong do you think our democracy truly is?  What can we, as individuals do to strengthen it?

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