The most turbulent years for America during my lifetime arguably were 1968 and 1974. The former began with the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which led to increasingly intense war protests at home, and saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the bloody riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The latter was consumed by the Watergate scandal, which ended in President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Both years tore at the very fabric of American life, leaving many to worry if our republic would survive. Both years left scars but ultimately attested to the resiliency of our constitution and government.
I reflect on 1968 and 1974 because political pundits on the right, left, and middle all agree 2019 promises to be an especially turbulent year. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues across the Sauk Valley and nation who are themselves on the right, left, and middle are worried about the upcoming 12 months.
How are we to survive a turbulent 2019? How will we stay sane and, more importantly, fulfill our civic responsibility to do all we can to ensure America survives ... and thrives ... into 2020 and beyond?
First, let’s take a close look in the mirror and commit ourselves to being thoroughly informed.
Most Americans are very well informed with only the information confirming their points of view. Instead of watching only Fox News or CNN, let’s split our time between both Fox News and CNN or dump them for the news on PBS, which has minimal partisan bias. And let’s supplement our television news with other balanced news sources: the local newspaper, available in print and online, and the Associated Press and Reuters, available free via smartphone apps and online.
Of profound importance, let’s double-dog swear we will get zero news from social media. As reported in this newspaper on Jan. 7, “[Social media] Algorithms are set to ensure a steady diet of confirmation bias and emotional manipulation with every click of the mouse (The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board).” Confirmation bias and emotional manipulation are antithetical to our commitment to being thoroughly informed. Facebook is fine for keeping up with family and friends but never should be used for news.
Next, let’s promise the person looking back in the mirror that we will be open to the opinions of other informed people.
Most Americans say they are open-minded, but immediately prepare for a “yes but” counterpunch when they hear differing points of view. Think where we would be if we doggedly held every view today we held when we were 18: I would still think “Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo” is a Hollywood classic, disco rules, and Richard Nixon was not a crook. Think where the country would be if we had not progressed as a nation: only property-owning white males would vote and hold office; public schools would not exist, but abhorrent child labor would; and poisons would pollute our water and air far worse than they do today.
Finally, before saying goodbye to the mirror, let’s commit ourselves to the belief that the preservation of our republic is more important than the issues of the moment.
As important as each issue is, as emotionally invested as we become over many issues, we must remember that emotions ran high on innumerable issues with each generation before us, but our forefathers and foremothers preserved this country so we could have our time with our issues.
Just as we must preserve America for our children, grandchildren, and beyond to have their time with their issues.
Note to readers: Dave Hellmich is president of Sauk Valley Community College, rural Dixon.