Friday, January 8, 2021

Some Personal Thoughts

A preface to this post: although these words, thoughts, and experiences are written by Michael Bitzer, the other members of the ONSP team support and agree with the sentiments expressed in this statement. This is a tough time in American politics, and it is going to take clear eyes to find a better way forward. As Political Scientists, we are committed to working towards a better functioning democracy. We can do better.

By Michael Bitzer

I write this on behalf of myself, but after consultation, the blog's fellow contributors have indicated their support for the following. We make clear, however, that we do so in our personal capacities and do not speak for our respective institutions.

I posted the following on Twitter, because I felt, at the end of this very long and tragic week, I needed to try and express my thoughts as simply and directly as I could. It’s long and is not intended to be a scholarly piece, but rather a summation of personal beliefs and experiences. I was intentional in crafting the piece's structure. I want the words to speak for themselves. It will offend some. It will give hope to others. I hope, for most, it will make you think. 

For me, it’s the only way that I can truly make sense of what we are experiencing. This is how I am feeling, as someone who has read, studied, thought, and ultimately tried to convey what it means to be an American, both historically and politically, for literally the past thirty years. And after this week’s events, we need to each ask ourselves something. And thus, the beginning of this thread. 

A question for every American: 

Do you support fascism or do you support freedom? 

And yes, it's that simple. 

If you can't answer that question, or pick the side that represents America and American values, then you've decided.

It is simply time to take account. 

Yes, 12 days is a short period of time before a new administration. 

But the arc of history needs to record where individuals, especially those who swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution, answered that question.

You've had 4 years: answer it.

I am under no illusion that we will get the answers. The fascist side will say "we're defending America."

They are wrong.

They will not admit it. Fine. They will rest with the burden of history and responsibility on them for eternity. 

But there has to be more of us than them.

I continue to believe that this is a grand experiment in humans governing themselves.

How we organize our world. How we see each other in society. What values we truly hold.

The rhetoric and subsequent actions of this past week demand accountability and answers.

We have failed at numerous times in our grand experiment. On a host of issues: race, gender, economics, basic humanity. 

Too many to name.

But we have a redeeming idea and value, found in the preamble to our governing rules of the game: "in order to form a more perfect union."

We aren't perfect. We're human.

But we strive for a "more perfect." That means a recognition that we can't get perfection, but we can try.

I want to try. I want to see some basic values expressed towards each other. For me.

Will that make some uncomfortable? Yes. 

I say: good.

This grand experiment requires us to see us for what we are. To accept, and to push us to what we can potentially be.

What I saw this week is not what I am. Nor what I want our experiment to be. 

The more I try to comprehend what we are, the more I have both hope and despair.

But I want hope to outweigh the despair. I want justice to outweigh injustice. I want civility to outweigh boorishness. 

I want us to continue to build American civic values, knowing we have not upheld them to all. 

But to keep building. To keep striving.

To keep pursuing a basic notion: That all persons 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.

Recognize it. Value it. Live it. 

You will fail at times. That's ok but keep working at it. For when you stop working at it, the grand experiment stops. 

We have to keep working it. To me, there are no other alternatives. 

We have been presented with an alternative, just this week. Reject it. Turn away. Keep pushing. 

It's not partisan.

At one time, a grand old party believed in the values of freedom, liberty, and individual prosperity. 

We need to keep fighting over those values, but those are the values to advance. Not what we saw by mobs on Wednesday. 

Actions have meaning. So to do words.

I know the power of words. Sometimes I'm inarticulate in mine. But there's a fundamental sense of expression and I've seen what the power of words can do.

To frame the choices. To convince others. To be convinced by others.

Words are power. And reclaiming that power is needed.

Make this moment about who and what we are. It is, but make the words mean the frame that you want them to be.

For too often, one side has coopted what words mean. What 'labels' denote.

No more. Not now. 

Speak truth to power. Reclaim the values and words that describe them.

It's only the battle of ideas, through the expression of words, that makes this fight worth fighting.

Because if it comes down to a battle of we saw Wednesday. Then, the battle is lost. We've had that battle before. 1860-1865.* 

We continue that battle.

At times, the battle seems to have been lost. 

But we continue on. Fight for the 'more perfect'. 

Claim the values of America, imperfect and perfect, and fight to make it more perfect. 

It's been a week. A week I never want to see repeated. But this is something I hold dear.

I hold dear to the idea of America, right and wrong. Justice and injustice. Freedom and liberty against intolerance and bigotry. 

I want this experiment to continue, if for no other reason that "to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

I've had a lot of private conversations with folks I truly admire and respect. We've all tried to articulate what we are fighting for this week. 

This is my small, meager, perhaps inarticulate way of setting forth my principles for what I have spoken to this week.

I keep coming back to a tweet I sent some time ago: enough is enough.

Through my studies, I know that people said something that needed saying. It may not have made a difference then, but it made a difference in time.

I hope to make a difference now. And in time to come.


* This reference is to both the presidential election of 1860 and the ensuing civil war period. It is for illustrative description only.