Courage in the Face of Insurrection

What does courage look like in the face of insurrection fomented by the President?

Courage is not Betsy DeVos or Elaine Chau resigning a Cabinet post two weeks before it ends.

Courage is not Mitch McConnell calling for fellow Senators to uphold the electoral college vote after weeks of dismissing the election results.

Courage is not the mainstream media blaming both political parties for the deep divisions in our nation when the Democrats promote democracy and the Republicans undermine it.

Courage is not opening the barricades to let in rioters.

Courage is not plucking Nancy Pelosi’s name plaque off her door; breaking windows of our nation’s Capitol; or chanting “USA” as you mount a coup.

Courage is not hiding behind the First Amendment while Nazis organize online.

Courage is not hollowing out government, calling the press the enemy, alienating our allies, defending Putin, ignoring a global pandemic, pardoning criminals, excusing war crimes, evading taxes, spreading conspiracies, or tweet firing, tweet raging, tweet policymaking, or supporting anyone who does.

What does courage look like? It is the millions who marched around the nation repeatedly to decry Donald Trump’s politics of division, and then the eighty million who marched to the polls during a global pandemic to oust him. Courage is Stacey Abrams, Raphael Warnock, John Ossoff and so many others who turned Georgia blue and sidelined Mitch McConnell who failed to act on (i.e., obstructed) over 400 bills passed by the House in the last Congress.

Courage is the steely determination of our essential workers in our hospitals, grocery stores, and farms, among others, that have kept us going despite the greater risks they face.

Courage will be restoring our democracy. So long as seventy million Americans buy into the lies and conspiracies that have pitted brother against brother, and sister against sister, we cannot pretend that any sense of normalcy will return. Democracy is job one for the Biden Administration because without a functional democracy, nothing else can be accomplished.

On day one after Biden’s inauguration, Congress must pass the For the People Act to end partisan gerrymandering and reduce the influence of money in politics, and the Protecting our Democracy Act to prevent future Presidential abuses of power.

On day one, we must start a process of accounting and accountability. We need a fair and honest accounting of all the laws Mr. Trump, his Administration, and his supporters (elected and mob) have committed, and then we need to hold them accountable. The reason Trump breaks the law so often is that he gets away with it. His defenders who broke the law see that they too can get away with it, and if they get caught, the criminal in chief will grant them a pardon or clemency. The likes of Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley see that as they brawl for the 2024 Presidency. If you don’t hold criminals to account, they will do it again.

We then need to corral the flow of disinformation and conspiracy that is igniting the flames of hatred in our country. Congress should restore the Fairness Doctrine that requires any news program that offers opinion to provide the opposing point of view as well so that the citizenry is informed. The Federal Communications Commission must enforce its rules to thwart politicking and lies by our news sources. The armed forces should shut off Fox News that predominates in its halls; replace it with NPR, PBS News Hour or CNN, all more objective sources of news. Our troops deserve honest reporting. We must aspire to a Walter Cronkite standard of journalistic ethics where anchors report the news, not make it up.

Social media companies should ban any person who is a verified member of a hate or extremist group who makes such posts in violation of their terms of use. They should also ban those who peddle in dark conspiracy, including elected leaders. Let’s ban bots. The FBI must investigate and the Department of Justice must vigorously prosecute crimes committed by extremists and their organizations to reduce their malign influence.

As we deal with these bad actors, we need also to bring our nation together through national service, civics education, and restoring faith in government. National service, in the military or in various civilian corps (Peace Corps, Teach for America, a new medical corps or a Public Works program), would bring red, blue and purple high school graduates together and build a promise for a better future. Congress should mandate civics education in elementary, middle and high schools to teach about the fundamentals of our democracy and how it should work. Let’s mobilize a corps of retired history, political science and law professors to assist.

Congress should commit to compromise as a good thing. The Senate should change its rules so that the filibuster is not the norm, and that Senators can bypass the Majority Leader to bring a bill to the floor to ensure that one man, like McConnell does not obstruct lawmaking. The Senate and House should work three weeks each month, nine to five, Monday through Friday, before returning home to their constituents. We should expect Members of Congress to do the work, get to know each other and work with respect, collegiality and comity.

The White House should implement a public education campaign to tout how and why the government helps the American people. Build the case again for social security, Medicare and Medicaid, the public health service, federal emergency response, investment in research and development, diplomacy, infrastructure, small business, federal parks, and so much more. Government is good. The people who serve are patriots who come to Washington to make a difference. Let’s uplift them after four years (perhaps eve four decades) of denigration.

There is so much work to be done, and fear that accountability will immediately spiral into partisan rancor. Truth is Trumpism will continue unless it is addressed head on. Unless the rules and incentives change, the Republicans will obstruct all business assuming it helps them regain power in two years. Impunity will invite more crime.

Biden will have to have an eye on both the short and long term. Both will require vision, optimism, and results. Biden will serve with an open heart, open mind and open arms. He won’t get everything done, and we may disagree with some of his choices. After the bitter antagonism of the last four years, Biden deserves all of our support and energy regardless of party to restore our democracy as the shining star in the firmament we all want it to be and deserve.

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Photo by Oliver Cole on Unsplash

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C. Dixon Osburn is a noted advocate for domestic and international human rights and security.

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