The Better Angels of Our Nature

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, September 2, 2020

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By Rep. Bradley Byrne

It’s disheartening to see this summer’s protests turn so very violent. Indeed, last Friday’s peaceful march in Washington, a small protest in Mobile on Saturday and the University of Alabama football team’s Tuscaloosa march on Monday, have been overwhelmed by violent clashes in places like Portland, Oregon. There is no message in this violence, just hate, injury and death. 

We saw videos last week of protesters physically accosting people in Washington trying to have a quiet meal in outdoor cafes and nearly attacking members of Congress leaving the president’s speech at the White House. A pro-Trump caravan in Portland was met by violent counter-protesters and one of the caravanners was killed. Later an Antifa member said she wasn’t saddened by the death and was cheered by counter-protesters for saying it. These violent acts, and sick apologies for them, are not about protesting racism or bigotry but about hatred and lawlessness that seem to be spreading around the country. 

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Let me be clear. Those protesting peacefully for social justice have a right to do so and I have been listening to them. But those who disagree with them also have a right to peacefully respond and we should hear them out as well, whether we agree with them or not. There is no justification for responding physically or violently. Nor is there any justification for vigilantism, which we have also seen. 

We need more leaders to speak out against this violence. But Democrat leaders have chosen to stay quiet. Why?  It’s not that they approve of the violence, because I don’t think that they do. But the political environment on the Left is such that even criticizing protest violence can get you “cancelled.” The socialist takeover of the Left’s ideology, and their condemnation of America as inherently evil and systemically racist, have put Democrat leaders in a bind. The Left is convinced that the evil that is America must be destroyed and replaced. Their leaders dare not openly disagree, so they stand by as some of their allies on the Left burn, loot, attack law enforcement officers, and kill conservatives. 

Well, they haven’t all been mute. Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week decided to attack President Donald Trump – and those of us in Congress who support him – as “domestic enemies,” language which actually greenlights the Leftwing violence we saw in Portland. My friend Steve Scalise, who was severely wounded and nearly died three years ago at the hands of a Leftwing shooter, justifiably called her out for it. The national news media mostly tried to ignore the story. Imagine if President Trump had said that about her and Democrats in Congress. The Democrats and their allies in the national news media would have howled. But we got silence from them on Pelosi’s totality inappropriate comment, as we have about the violence around the country in general. 

There is a very moving video you can find on YouTube. It’s a short clip of Robert F. Kennedy in Indianapolis the night Martin Luther King was assassinated. It’s hard to be sure, but the audience appears to be mostly Black, and it seems they had not heard the news until Kennedy told them. You can hear the shocked reaction in the crowd. In impromptu remarks he said “it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.” He told the audience “you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge,” but called upon them “to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.” He didn’t see America as evil – he said that the vast majority of Americans, of all races, “want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.” 

Where is that voice today? You don’t hear it from Joe Biden or Kamala Harris. You hear the opposite from Nancy Pelosi. Biden only responded to the violence this week after being called out for his silence, and you didn’t hear Kennedy’s impromptu and sincere eloquence, just a strained effort to denounce violence and blame President Trump for it. He spoke only in the manner least unacceptable to his base. 

I’m not a leader at their level, but I will use my smaller voice and speak out plainly.

Enough. Please put an end to the violence. Put down the weapons, the rocks and bricks, the plastic bottles with frozen water inside. Stop setting fire to buildings and cars. Looting is not “reparations,” it’s a crime perpetrated against innocent business owners. Quit attacking law enforcement officers, the vast majority of whom are just doing their very difficult jobs under these terrible circumstances. If you disagree with one side or the other that’s okay, but try to hear what they are saying and please don’t physically confront them or innocent bystanders or public officials. And we don’t need vigilantes – let law enforcement officers do their job. 

We all should try harder to be one nation out of the many who live here. Read the last paragraph of President Lincoln’s First Inaugural delivered just weeks before the Civil War began. “We are not enemies, but friends,” he said. “We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” And then he closed by poetically conjuring the “mystic chords of memory,” which he hoped “would yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” 

Both Kennedy and Lincoln were ultimately assassinated, but their words and spirits live on. Let us in our own time live up to their examples, touched by the better angels of our nature.