Acts of political violence in our country are not new. Those of us who are of a certain age have witnessed them in their rawest form before.
But it just seems different now.
Historian Jon Meacham, the author of the book, “Soul of America,” described it this way in responding in the Washington Post to the horror of the pipe bomb attacks we have witnessed in recent days:
“What happened today is a reminder of the stakes of the era in which we’re living. This is an era of a fundamental redefinition of politics and culture. It requires leadership that is steadying, not incendiary, and we’ve seen far too much incendiary.”
It is also a reminder to me of some words a fellow journalist shared a dozen or so years ago.
They came after a week of leadership training for journalism leaders from around the world at the Poynter Institute, which I helped teach.
“What did you learn?“ I asked her.
“We discovered,“ she answered, ”there is a little of us in each one of us.”
No, we don’t know who made the bombs that were sent to two former presidents, a vice president, a secretary of state, an attorney general and others. Nor do we know who mailed them, or why, the biggest question of all.
Surely, we will learn the answers soon from the experts, rather than from the rambling rants from the left and right know-nothings.
But, meanwhile, shouldn’t our leaders start doing something about the tone of our discourse? And shouldn’t we as citizens, as voters, send them a message?
Shouldn’t we demand leaders who understand that if we are to succeed in healing our wounds, in shedding light on the darkness of despair which envelops us, in erasing the self-drawn lines of division, that we must begin the journey from a place where trust exists?
Shouldn’t we demand leaders who grasp the need for respect and humility and transparency and who truly believe that values such as fairness, ethical behavior and compassion are essential elements of leadership?
Shouldn’t we demand that leaders be humble enough to allow others to challenge them without branding the challengers with ugly labels, or mocking them, or conveniently forgetting about the constitutional rights to protest and to petition members of Congress; leaders who have the courage and the imagination to craft a direction that will heal our fears and provide hope rather than add fuel to our fears and squeeze hope from our souls?
Shouldn’t we demand leaders who appreciate that we become better when we pay attention to the voices and views and values of those who are different?
We are passing through a moment when we are experiencing the deepest fracture in our country in a long, long time. It’s a moment when strong and inspirational leadership is needed more than ever, leadership that, unfortunately, too often seems as rare as albino alligators in my birth state of Louisiana.
It would be nice if more of our leaders really believed that “there is a little of us in each one of us.”
Or perhaps considered something Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in a speech in which he was talking about how we are all caught in a network of mutuality, tied together in a single garment of destiny:
“For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
There is a lesson in those words for all of us.
Gregory Favre, the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Company, is a CALmatters board member, [email protected] He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.