Last week I received an email from a constituent asking me about the censuring of Speaker Straus by the Republican Party of Texas Executive Committee. I’ve been asked about the issue many times, but this letter was different.
Rather than focusing on the past, and what kind of action needs to be taken to punish people, or saying that those who felt wronged are not justified in their feelings, he had a different concern in mind, one that has been on my mind for the last few months as well. He was concerned that we are tearing ourselves apart.
I think he hit on the defining challenge of our era, not just as Texans, but as Americans; we are fundamentally misunderstanding who our true enemies are and the threats they pose.
Every era brings new challenges to our national security. The Industrial Age brought machine guns and tanks, the nuclear age brought us weapons that could level cities, and the space age showed us the need to move forward or be left behind. The Information Age arrived 20 years ago, and we are just now facing its true threats.
Back in the fall, congress held hearings about how, during the last election cycle, social media sites were inundated with posts from Russian groups attempting to influence American voters. These posts weren’t trying to elect one candidate, or promote one ideology. They came from all perspectives, from the far right and the far left, targeting racial divisions and ideological divisions, all with only one goal in mind; make them hate each other.
At some point we started looking at our fellow Texans, and our fellow Americans, as the enemy. When you view someone as an enemy it is easy to dismiss them and their individual stories, backgrounds, and priorities and make them into a caricature. They stop being an individual person you can talk to, reason with, and understand, and become part of a collective “them” that must be destroyed.
Our true enemies have realized that our largest vulnerability as a nation isn’t our military strength, our economy, or our level of technological advancement, it is in the level of divisiveness within our society. What better way to destroy a nation than to help them do it to themselves?
Everything about the Russian social media misinformation campaign was about telling us that our fellow Americans are our biggest threat. They want you to think that you can’t trust anyone who disagrees with you on an issue. They want you to think that you are fighting a war that you must win at all costs.
But this isn’t a war. This is a family. Anyone who has fought with their spouse on an issue, certain they were right, knows what it can mean to “win” the fight, but ultimately realize that something bigger was lost along the way. You realize that, after the argument, you still have to live together, you still have to build a future together, and that, ultimately, someone will have to set aside their pride, reach across to the other and try to understand.
The things that build a strong family are the same things that build a strong community, a strong party, a strong state, and a strong nation. Real strength doesn’t come from constantly overpowering someone else, it comes from being able to understand them, work with them, and ultimately build something lasting with them that no outside force can break apart.
During the height of the Cold War, despite how much they may have fought it out on policy, President Reagan would still sit down with Democrat Speaker Tip O’Neil, have a beer, and come together as part of the American family. That was the America that brought down the Soviet Union. That was true strength; the willingness to overcome hatred, bitterness, and anger, choosing instead to communicate and unify.
Speaker Straus and his administration in the House of Representatives are in the past. Regardless of how any of us feel about what was done, we are still left with the same choice to make. We can seize this opportunity to break apart old alliances, come together, and work towards our common goals, or we can let the divisions of the past control our future.
As I begin the search for whom I will support as the Speaker of the House for the 86th Legislative session, this will be one of the chief attributes I will look for in a leader. In the next article, I will layout the rest of the criteria I will be using, and the questions I will be asking, to help me make that decision. I welcome your feedback and will be looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter to help me best represent you in this important choice.
P.S. As February 6th approaches, Happy Birthday to the late President Reagan, the Great Communicator. Let us remember the patriotism and unity he inspired, and use it as a model for our current challenges.