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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Lisa Brown: Divided We Fall

Lisa Brown

The situation in America today, with pipe bombs mailed to political figures, the shootings of Representatives Gabby Giffords and Steve Scalise, and the killing of journalists, here and abroad, should be a wake-up call for us to protect our democracy.

Leaders of all political parties must denounce violence and threats of violence as ways to address political differences, without qualification, without attempting to justify or rationalize, and without pointing fingers at our political opponents.

We should teach our children and remind each other that free speech, free assembly, and voting are how we resolve political differences in America. Doing that can help rebuild trust and bridge the toxic divides that plague our politics today.

All political leaders should reaffirm our support for the free press. President Trump was wrong to call the media the “enemy of the people,” and wrong to speak approvingly of physical violence against a journalist. A “body slam” could be metaphorical, but in this case, it was real, and nothing to joke about or condone.

As I stated in a recent social media post, I don’t always like or agree with what is written or broadcast, but the president’s suggestion that the media purposely spreads false information and that they are the source of the anger people often feel, is not only incorrect, but an attack on an important democratic institution.

I focus on the president not because he caused these divisions, but because leadership matters. I believe he is exploiting and capitalizing on these social and economic divisions. And by not working to heal them or promote unity, I see him, regardless of his policy positions, as part of the problem. The leadership void in the White House requires Congress to take on changing this toxic political climate.

I call on leaders in both political parties to take action to set a different tone. This means not only not succumbing to the rhetoric and obvious attempts to divide us, but resolving important issues like health care, immigration, and budgets, in a bipartisan way. The failure of this Congress and of my opponent to make meaningful progress on these issues that are important to Eastern Washington’s families and economy, is the main reason I left my position as WSU chancellor to run for Congress.

Though the current political climate is extremely worrisome, I know firsthand that it is not new. As a candidate and elected official, I have received numerous threats over the years. I have reported these threats, which began in 1992, when I was first labeled “Sandinista Lisa,” to the appropriate law enforcement officials. I’m sorry these threats are still present for all political figures in America, including me and my opponent.

I reject the use of slurs and name-calling, ridicule, profanity, “red-baiting” and demonization of political opponents as political tactics, because they are wrong, regardless of whether they contribute to or trigger violence. Our political discourse would be stronger if campaigns were conducted without these tactics.

I don’t believe we will improve our currently divided political environment by merely calling for civility, making superficial gestures of unity, or proposing rule-changes in Congress. Leaders in Congress can change things by first policing members of their own party who go outside the bounds of civility. Congressional leaders also need to walk their talk.

It’s easy to point to minor, uncontroversial bills as examples of bipartisanship. But the proof is in how we treat difficult problems.

Unfortunately, both parties have tried to pass major health care legislation in a partisan way. The Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill in 2013 but majority House Republicans left it on the table. And this year, Congress left to campaign even though the farm bill expired. Since the current Congress isn’t getting the job done, voters can aid this process by sending the message this November that they want change.

I believe the root of the toxicity in the current political environment is connected to growing income inequality, and associated economic and social insecurity experienced by many Americans. And these trends are unfortunately exacerbated by policies of this Congress.

In Congress, I’ll work to reverse growing inequality with education and infrastructure investments that support rural and urban communities in Eastern Washington. I’ll safeguard Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and I’ll promote equality in civil rights and opportunity for all Americans.

Above all, to improve trust, and bridge these divides, we need to tell the people the truth – the truth matters and trust is impossible without it.

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