Twelve years ago, my wife and I attended the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was incredibly cold, and our seats were bad. But watching the elderly Black attendees sob tears of joy and happiness was a sight to behold and savor, even if we couldn’t see the president.
Twelve years later seems like a lifetime. We are now living through a global pandemic, a severe economic downturn for those least able to survive it and a far-right terrorist insurgency.
But democracy won on Inauguration Day and our imperfect country has a chance to move forward if:
- We turn down the noise.
- We communicate with people we do not know as if they are friends we want to keep.
- We fix the things people tried to break (i.e., voting by mail) so next time we do not have to get lucky.
- We realize we can’t have unity without accountability.
- We listen with empathy and try to put ourselves in the shoes of others, especially those whose opinions differ from our own.
One of the biggest arguments we have around our dinner table is not really about differing policy views, it’s more about who we should listen to and how. Are the debates playing out on Twitter over people’s unhappiness over an additional $1,400 stimulus versus $2,000 more to be taken seriously? Is it intended to solve something or just cause a fight?
After fighting with my kids about how relevant Twitter or Instagram is to people’s lives, I realize everything is relevant. But politicians should pause, so they (and we) have time to reflect before we react.
More than that, it’s important to pause and reflect on how we neared the brink of the end of American democracy and what each of us – especially those of us with an amplified voice – can do to contribute to a more civil discourse. There are some opinions we can’t tolerate: racism, sexism, xenophobia and support for violence. But outside of those red lines, we in the communication business can try to guide our clients and causes to progress, not attack; to argue, but not fight; and to resolve, but not enflame.
We need more pause, more reflection and less reaction.
Four years ago on Inauguration Day, I tried to make sense of what was happening by citing the history of the Founding Fathers and how vigorously they fought with each other and through the media of the day to win their debates. In some cases, they even dueled to the death, as I pointed out.
After four years of fury, anger and division, I see my reference was misplaced. That was not the best way we settled debates – it was the worst. If Joe Biden’s inauguration means anything, it means we have a chance to progress. But we may not get a second chance if we fail to reform democracy this time.
Perhaps Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman said it better than I could ever hope to.
Brian Feldman is a partner, general counsel and co-leads the agency’s healthcare practice.
Category: Public Affairs