Americans have always been passionate about politics. We are, after all, a nation born from protest and revolution.
We believe in vigorous debate. The very ratification of our Constitution hinged on the passage of the First Amendment, guaranteeing our freedom of religion, of assembly, and of speech.
What we have never embraced is that a more perfect union could result from political violence.
Now is the time for all of our nation’s leaders to come together and demand a discourse that rejects violence on our streets. As citizens of this great nation, we must preserve freedom—and fighting to destroy cannot deliver that.
Violence just begets more violence. The spectacle of seeing business owners in the nation’s capital and across the country boarding up their businesses to prepare for post-election unrest is unprecedented. In fact, a country that is weary after a summer of pandemic conditions that were punctuated with violence is bracing for this week’s election with a sense of disbelief.
The last thing Americans want is more arson and property destruction, rioting, looting, and blood on their streets. Unfortunately, a YouGov poll reveals that 56% of those surveyed expect to see "an increase in violence as a result of the election.”
President Abraham Lincoln warned, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” That’s why most Americans are responding to the intensity of today’s political debates over the future of our country by turning out to vote in record numbers and proudly posting their “I voted” stickers on social media. Americans know how to determine the direction of their nation.
However, there are others with perverse intentions who are presetting revolutionary reactions. A group called ShutDownDC is so determined to foment division that it has even posted online that its members are “making plans to be in the streets before the polls even close.”
This kind of seditious behavior must be condemned and repudiated in the strongest terms. Americans have well-traveled lanes for channeling our passions and disagreements. That is the strength of our country. The true measure of a nation is not how it responds in moments of comfort and convenience, but how it responds during times of controversy and challenges.
Our civil liberties—freedom of speech, conscience, and assembly among them—are the pillars of democracy through which we express our political will. These rights provide the solid foundation that has made our enduring democracy the envy of the world.
We have a proud history of protest: the legacy of the persistent Suffragettes; the majesty of the civil rights pioneers’ brave walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge; the constancy of the annual March for Life.
We protest with passion, yes, but we do not wantonly destroy others’ lives and livelihoods. Violence does not represent the will of the majority of people. Rather, it exerts the will of the mob. Americans want our heritage of peaceful elections protected. As we see anarchists and extremists threatening resistance to the constitutional order, we need to lead and retake our country. In the days ahead, we need to fight for America.
What does that kind of fight look like? We can learn from the example of William Wilberforce, who led one of the greatest societal revolutions in history through his tenacious fight against slavery in the 19th century. While Wilberforce advocated for the equality and rights of the slave, at the same time, he pursued a parallel project of calling for a “reformation of manners.”
For Wilberforce, this meant applying his faith broadly to the betterment of society and calling for the application of compassion to public policy. Abolishing slavery was his top priority, but he also crusaded against child labor and against animal cruelty as well.
The glory of America is that a “more perfect union” is always and ever our aspiration. There is work to be done. We do not entirely agree on the path forward, it’s true, but the time is now to engage that debate—vigorously and peacefully.
This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner