By Jared Mead and Nate Nehring / For The Herald
For those of us who had hoped 2021 would bring better tidings than 2020, it has been a disappointing start. While we have been able to take down our tattered 2020 calendars and pin up shiny new ones in their place, we have sadly been unable to rid ourselves of the problems encountered during the last year.
The riots that occurred at the U.S. Capitol just six days into the new year sent shockwaves at a time when we thought nothing more could surprise us. The storming of the seat of our nation and the deadly violence that ensued were abhorrent and ought to be condemned in the strongest way by all Americans. Political violence, including breaking into federal buildings, threatening our elected leaders, and beating police officers is as un-American as it gets. Those who participated in these criminal actions must be held accountable. Fortunately, scores of arrests have been made and ongoing investigations will surely lead to more.
But what comes next?
It would be foolish to conclude that the hatred we have become accustomed to in our society can be simply resolved by censoring extreme rhetoric online or retreating to our echo chambers to ignore those with whom we disagree. An honest reflection will show that hatred has been alive and well, and growing, for some time now. And it is not exclusive to a political party or ideology; it permeates our entire culture.
Since the 1980s, the way Americans have been getting our information has changed dramatically. This started with the advent of the 24-hour news cycle that eventually evolved into the ideological market segmentation strategy we experience today in the form of networks like MSNBC on one side and Fox News on the other. We now live in a world where individuals watching a controversial story on Fox News will likely arrive at the opposite conclusion from their neighbors who viewed the story on MSNBC.
A 2018 Pew Research Center study found that nearly 8 in 10 Americans say that when it comes to important issues facing the country, most Republican and Democratic voters not only disagree over plans and policies but cannot agree on basic facts. This number has skyrocketed over the past 10 years.
The inability to find agreement on foundational facts has made tough conversations between individuals on different sides of the political spectrum nearly impossible. We have all experienced these deeply frustrating conversations at one point or another and can count ourselves lucky if they did not dissolve into personal attacks.
With this sort of information disconnect, how can we hope for any meaningful public discourse?
For most people, the stress caused by these discussions is not worth it, leading to retreats into our tribal echo chambers which simply reinforce our pre-conceived worldviews. Not engaging with each other on the important issues of the day has made it far too easy to dehumanize those whom we disagree with. Rather than making the effort to understand and learn from their point of view, we carelessly discard not only the viewpoint, but the individual holding that viewpoint as well.
Like many parents, we are both anxious about our children’s futures. An inordinate amount of time is spent considering what those futures will look like, whether their lives will be better than our own, or even whether our society as we know it can hold together in a functional way. We do not want our children to grow up in an America which is not only divided about controversial views but about the humanity of the individuals who hold those views.
So, what can we do to build a path forward, together? The solutions to these monumental societal problems will not come from Republicans or Democrats in Washington, D.C. They will not come from an individual political leader, however well-intentioned that leader may be. We believe that the crisis of hatred that plagues our nation will be solved by everyday people, mothers and fathers, role models and mentors who instill common values based in our undeniable fellowship and the deep conviction that we will fail or succeed together.
And while the founding promises of America have not always been equally accessible to all Americans, and egregious injustices still exist today, the ideals out country was founded upon are worth fighting for.
When members of opposing political parties recognize the innate dignity of their competitors, when we realize we are each more than simply who we voted for in the last election, when we begin seeking difficult truths rather than accepting false narratives which better fit our worldview, then we can have hope in the America our children will inherit. We can all build a path toward that America, together.
Jared Mead and Nate Nehring are Snohomish County Council members representing Council Districts 4 and 1, respectively.