Of all the words that might unite us across the political spectrum, the one I have heard most often over the past few days is “Enough!”
- Enough dividing and conquering
- Enough violence
- Enough cruelty
- Enough isolation due to COVID-19
- Enough meddling from foreign powers
- Enough lying
- Enough fear
- Enough loss
- Enough immobility
- Enough being taken for granted in the electoral process
- Enough working hard with nothing to show for it
- Enough being sick without medical coverage
- Enough being invisible, unheard, unseen
- Enough condescension, misogyny, racism
- Enough being the butt of others’ jokes
- Enough threats to person, reputation, livelihood
- Enough threats to democracy
- Enough secrets and silences
- Enough “bad actors”
- Enough tearing the country apart
- Enough problem solving by force
There is something for everyone on this list. Perhaps “Enough!” could become the rallying cry for a nation under siege from within as well as outside our geographical and economic borders.
For some time I have been wondering when and what it would take for the body politic to say “Enough!” January 6, 2021, may mark that day. Following the breach of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, my question becomes, “Are we looking at the beginning of the end of divisiveness, or are we looking at the beginning of something more sinister, a second civil war?
January 6th was the day to certify the selection of Joe Biden to become the 46th President of the United States. Typically this would have been a ho-hum, pro forma, procedural action in the House of Representatives. For many across the political spectrum, however, it was a nail-biter day.
At the end of his live televised address on that fateful day, President-Elect Joe Biden said, “Enough is enough is enough.” Early in the day, President Trump addressed his supporters at a rally in front of the White House: “We will never give up. We will never concede. Our country has had enough….we will stop the steal.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the events could mark the “death spiral of democracy.” Former Defense Secretary James Mattis called the lack of congressional action to rein in this president “profiles in cowardice.” CBS News anchor Major Garrett commented, “If this doesnʻt flush [Trump] out of the Republican Party, then he is not flushable.” When black Americans watched as one lone black Capitol guard faced a vicious mob without backup support, I experienced the collective sigh and whispered to myself, “Here we go again; enough.”
All parties claim to have had enough, but the focus of that enough varies widely. All claim to be on the side of righteousness. Many have repeated the sentiment that while certification of a Biden victory may signal the end of the Trump presidency, the end of Trumpism in America is nowhere in sight and his supporters have clearly not had enough. That base has been and likely will remain an omnipresent force in American history, just as other forces will remain that could be labeled “progressive” or “moderate.”
So let me be clear: my enough highlights cruelty, indecency, deception, and barriers to opportunity. I have had enough of beliefs and actions that inflict intentional harm, that stoke fear, that limit choice, or that see any other as evil. Particularly troubling are negative perceptions based on immutable physical characteristics, identity, and zip code.
How do we fashion peaceful coexistence among such starkly different perspectives? How do we determine the size and shape of such a tent that all would fit inside it without sacrificing fundamental identity? How can we make the ideal of American democracy an enduring form of governance, despite internal and external pressures?
Was Roberto Michels right? Is it impossible to avoid an eventual return to oligarchy, regardless of which form any governance structure takes at its beginning? What would it take for all parties to declare simultaneously “Enough!” and leave each other alone to live and vote and do no harm to their opponents while the pendulum swings back and forth, left to right, up and down?
Fifty years from now, what will turn out to have been the impact of these moments in the political life of our country? What choices will we make now to frame and reframe our identity as a nation so that fifty years from now we break out in a collective smile? I believe we are in a pivotal moment, one in which we face largely private daily choices-with-a-lower-case “c” and simultaneously long-term strategic cultural choices-with-a-capital “C.”
“Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.“Ronald Reagan
Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the end of both divisiveness and a second civil war. Perhaps we will remove ourselves as a society from false dichotomies. Perhaps we will fashion a contemporary framework for understanding and reaching out to those among us whom we do not understand and who may look or think differently from us, but who are also passionate and patriotic citizens.
We have become a bimodal society in which the gap between not only perceptions of reality, but between the very realities themselves shows up in stark contrast. Can simple notions of decency, acknowledgment, common sense, and the common good strike a familiar chord in all of us, regardless of circumstances, and provide the alchemy to turn the many into one? I certainly hope so.
E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Enough.