Essay: Intolerance is the real threat to our democracy. Here’s how we can fight it together.

August 30, 2020

As I debate almost daily with my friends on Facebook, I am struck anew at how we witness the same events and come away with opposite stories about what is happening. 

I can’t help but wonder how deep we need to dig to get to common ground.

Daily, I post “Pivot to… ” and then name a new topic, followed by a question for reflection. Sometimes people respond with comments. Mostly they don’t, but when we connect in real life, friends and family say thank you. They tell me how much they look forward to my invitations to reflect about something thoughtful on Facebook. They tell me it’s a reminder of our common humanity. 

I recently posted, “Pivot to…a principled stand. What principles (values) are you willing to defend? And to what extent?”

The first comment, from a real-life friend, was: “Larry: I will stand against all enemies foreign and domestic to protect our Constitution to the extent of my abilities including my life.”

Larry believes America’s enemies are the “violent rioters” in the streets during the summer of 2020. I believe the enemy of our Constitution is the president, his cronies and enablers. 

Ana Julia Ayala, an immigrant from El Salvador, waits for her son to depart a naturalization ceremony on March 20, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. The naturalization ceremony welcomed more than 7,200 immigrants from over 100 countries who took the citizenship oath and pledged allegiance to the American flag.

In looking for common ground, I’m inspired that we are both willing to defend the Constitution, with our lives if necessary.

Larry’s response is a shortened version of the oath that every civil servant is required to take: “I, (state full name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Anti-democratic beliefs are growing

What the oath cannot address is how we discern who or what is the enemy. Perhaps too many of us have mistaken our political opponents as our nation’s enemies.

Every hundred years or so, we have a similar fight about democracy, and why we should even care about our system of governance.

Ironically, the tolerance of multiple views, even un-democratic ones, allows democracy to be threatened.  As anti-democratic beliefs take root, they can spread like kudzu. And like kudzu, anti-democratic beliefs become naturalized in the territory of democracy.

When unchecked, these anti-democratic beliefs will kill the host (our nation) that nourishes them. It is our duty and challenge, as citizens, to weed out the tyrannical, authoritarian and anarchist tendencies in ourselves, and within others.

Let’s commit to common values

This is our common ground — where we commit to the values of democracy and become tolerant of other viewpoints. 

In choosing democracy, we must exhibit tolerance for ideas with which we disagree.  When we choose intolerance, we leave our democratic values behind, which is the real enemy of our Constitution. We must argue, debate and deliberate in good faith. And we must be willing to listen, learn and change our minds.

What is important, is the survival of our democratic values as detailed in our Constitution. We are in a process of re-imagining how those values will be embodied in the next 100 years. And we need to help each other as we work through the hard questions that process raises.

We need to stand arm-in-arm to defend the ideals and values of democracy and to face down our true common enemy: intolerance.