If We Want Better, We Must Do Better

Hello. Let me reintroduce myself. Linda Lyon. Retired Air Force Colonel, school board member, very happily married to my best friend, who is also a woman. Previously married to a great guy. Enthusiastic fly fisher, own a gun, love to camp. A patriot who believes in our Constitution and progressive policies but also that our system works best when we have a balance of power between two parties so they must compromise to get things done. In other words, please don’t write me off with just one label. You’d be wrong. That is of course, true of all of us.

I’ve been blogging on RestoreReason.com since 2013, with a hiatus since mid-2019. There are multiple reasons for my break to include some hard-fought political losses that were near and dear to my heart. More than anything though, I thought there was just too much craziness in the news and I didn’t think I had anything constructive to add. Whatever I had to say would just be drowned out, and even if anyone was listening, it was probably only the people who agreed with me.

The last post I wrote on in 2019 titled “Teachers are the Real Patriots”, was written in response to a letter to the editor in the Arizona Daily Star. In it, a veteran made the point that “Now all enemies are Democrats and liberals” and he went on to say, “There are many retired military who will protect our president. He has only to say where and when, we will be there and the wrath of Hell will descend. We will take our country back.”

At the time, I had no clue what was to come, and in my response as an ardent public education advocate, I focused on teachers as patriots:

Teachers, standing up for those most vulnerable among us, are the real patriots. They know there can be no great democratic republic when there is no educated citizenry and that our public schools are the only ones that can address the problems we face at the scale demanded. Over 90% of America’s K–12 population attends public schools and that is where our singular educational focus should be. No. That is where it MUST be. Yes, to provide an engaged citizenry who can think creatively and determine fact from fiction.

I went on to implore continuing the fight for the “immortal declaration”:

Yes, we have much work to do. But, allowing ourselves to be divided and conquered, whether by Russia, partisan politics, or school privatizers is not going to help us get it done. To stay strong and prosperous, we must be true to what is referred to as the “immortal declaration”. From the Declaration of Independence, it states that, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

America is undoubtedly a long way from realizing this dream. But even the aspiration itself is one of the things that sets us apart from most other nations and is one that we should fight tooth and nail to achieve. As patriots, we must steadfastly reject the nightmare Theriot and others like him would have us embrace and continue to fight with all our power for this American ideal and the Dream it promises.

Two years later, I found myself responding to another letter to the editor in the Star in which that writer claimed “progressives destroyed our election integrity” and that “government overreaches in our basic liberties”. I’m guessing he believes that Trump really won the election and that the January 6th Capitol insurgents were just sightseeing tourists. As for January 6th, I guess the 2019 letter writer was correct. Trump did only have to say “where” (the U.S. Capitol) and “when” (January 6th), and “they” were there and the wrath of Hell did descend. Fortunately, his prescience was only partially correct and they did not “take our country back”.

Still, there can be little doubt that America and the democratic republic it has enjoyed for almost 244 years is in trouble, and although outside forces are exacerbating our problems, we are currently our own worst enemy. Political polarization, racial animus, and gun violence are all off the charts and it is incredibly hard to see any path to positive progress. Little did we know just how bad things could get. Just how far from the long-standing norm our politics and priorities would drift.

I don’t have any answers, but think a starting point might be to take a cue from Aretha Franklin and first work to R-E-S-P-E-C-T each other. I have long believed it is the number one key to a healthy marriage and, would go a long way toward giving us space to heal. Okay, I know this is much harder said than done. That’s one of the reasons I took up fly fishing instead (fish don’t talk back). I mean how can I even begin to respect the guy who believes that “democrats and liberals” are the enemy of our country? Truth is, I don’t have to respect him, I just have to recognize that as an American, as a fellow human being, he has the right to think what he wants. It is when he acts on his thoughts in a way that infringes on my rights that we have a problem. Or as someone wisely once said, “your right to swing your fists ends where my nose begins”.

I’m reminded of a speech from one of my favorite movies, The American President, with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, released in 1995. In it “President” Douglas gives a speech that is even more fitting today:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

Lately though, we are too ready to label, to negate, to vilify. On a personal level, we join in the behavior of our chosen “tribe” because it makes us feel like we belong. This is not a new phenomena, but is all the more dangerous now because of the ubiquitous Internet and the social media platforms it has spawned. On a broader level, it has allowed our worst proclivities to be exploited by foreign and domestic enemies alike. Again “President Douglas” in The American President:

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson [the GOP] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He [they] is [are] interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle age, middle class, middle income [or just disenfranchised white] voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family, and American values and character, and you wave an old photo of the President’s girlfriend [the flag] and you scream about patriotism. You tell them she’s [“illegal” immigrants are] to blame for their lot in life. And you go on television and you call her [them] a whore [rapists and murderers].

The older I get, the more I realize there’s really nothing new under the sun. The words in the brackets above are mine and update the speech to fit the era we find ourselves in now.

No, manipulation of voters by politicians and others is not new. What is new, is the speed and volume at which the influence is coming, especially from foreign powers. Unfortunately, in this time of unprecedented access to information, it is harder than ever to find the truth and many Americans don’t realize they are being manipulated. Just like in the movie The Matrix, many of us are unwittingly cocooned in information bubbles that shield us from the truth. We listen to/read/watch only that which reinforces our beliefs. In many cases, we don’t even see critical thinking as a valuable skill. The problem then in coming together, is that not only do we have different opinions, but entirely different facts upon which they are based. Not only that, but a CBS News poll released in January 2021 showed that more than 50 percent of Americans believe the greatest danger to our way of life comes from their fellow citizens. That led Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, to ask in a February 5, 2021 USA Today op-ed, “Is it possible for Americans to achieve unity when they cannot agree on their common humanity?”

Wow, that is a low bar and we likely haven’t yet hit the bottom. But, I continue to find comfort that we’ve been through worse times and still recovered (albeit imperfectly). Recognizing each other’s humanity and the respect each of us is due by virtue of that humanity is a place to start. It is up to each and every one of us and none of us should expect better, unless each of us does better.

15 thoughts on “If We Want Better, We Must Do Better

  1. It’s really good to hear from you again, and especially with your brilliant article. Looking forward to more.

    Boyd Bosma

  2. Pingback: Linda Lyon: Can We Heal Our Divided Society? | Diane Ravitch's blog
    • Thanks very much Diane. I continue to be so inspired by you and your decades of steadfast commitment to quality public education. Thanks so much for what you and the Network for Public Education do every single day

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