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Reiff: We can all do better in this divided, uncivil country | COMMENTARY

I have knee-jerk reactions to the 24-hour news cycle. Within the last few weeks, I have wanted to write about the almost daily assaults on the American ideals of democracy and decency. Demanding a more “patriotic curriculum” is reminiscent of reeducation camps and youth indoctrination in totalitarian states. Calling on white terrorists to “stand down and stand by” is an explicit attack on the foundation of democracy.

The president has been trying to rig the election through a concerted effort to suppress the vote. Baseless claims of mail-voting fraud; fake ballot boxes planted by Republican operatives; appalling reductions of voting locations, intentionally limiting access for those without private transportation (i.e., poor African Americans in Texas); the disingenuous rush to seat a Supreme Court justice preselected to support Trump if the election is contested; and physical intimidation of in-person voting are all designed to prevent Democrats from having their votes count or even voting at all.

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Crowds screaming “Lock her up!” at a governor who has already been the target of a politically instigated kidnapping look more and more like violent mobs, not conventional supporters of a president. Qanon, identified as a potential terrorist threat by the FBI, whose bizarre conspiracy theories claim Donald Trump was appointed by God to take down the satanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals, otherwise known as the Democratic Party, has become a source of “fact.” Trump’s delusional claims that we are turning the corner on the pandemic encourages horrifyingly reckless behaviors at his rallies. These are frightening times.

At the same time, conservatives see a world that is equally scary. Dire predictions of a dystopian America, should Biden win the election, are taken at face value. Although baseless conspiracy theories and questionable conjecture exacerbate these fears, they are real. Perception is reality.

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Neither Democrats nor Republicans seem able to find anything resembling common ground. America is more divided at any time since the Civil War. Our discourse has become uncivil. We do not listen to each other. We do not talk to each other. We get in each other’s faces, where ideological differences have devolved into hateful personal attacks.

I believe I am a reasonable person capable of engaging in polite discussions, but I have not been doing so well lately. I am angry a lot. I am dismissive of Trump supporters. I question their morality and even their sanity. My anger and fear are jeopardizing my ability to be civil when angry bystanders have confronted us at the Patriots Resist rallies we hold every Saturday in Westminster. I am not proud of my behavior.

In church on a recent Sunday, our pastor asked if any of us could see a reunification of our country after the election. The silence was deafening. It simply is not realistic to imagine that we will heal in a short time.

Maybe it is time to embrace the audacity of hope. As an educator, I believe that teachers can make a profoundly positive impact on this dysfunctional culture.

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A curriculum infused with ideals of social justice, equality and civility — beginning in the earliest grades — would help our children to become thoughtful and reflective citizens who will stand up and work for the ideals of our country. We will not all agree with each other — we shouldn’t — but we’d be on the path to accepting our differences and even resolving them. This means a systemic change in our culture requiring all of us to put down our swords and turn them into ploughshares.

At my age, I am not going to change the educational system. As an individual, I cannot effect systemic change. But I can start with myself. I can learn to be more reflective, to listen more and talk less, and to understand the perspectives of others. I will not back down from standing up for the values I believe are right, but I can be a more effective advocate by focusing on reconciliation and restorative justice. I can work harder at finding the elusive common ground. I invite you to join me.

Henry Reiff is a community activist who writes from Westminster. Reach him at hreiff@mcdaniel.edu.

For any member of the community who would like to submit a guest community voices column for publication consideration, it should be approximately 700 words and sent to bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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