Bringing Unity to America: An Open Letter to President-elect Biden
First of all, thank you for your commitment to leadership and service and most of all, to building a unified America.
While COVID-19 is probably the most serious challenge you now face, it is one of many. Please do not allow the importance of re-building a common understanding of and commitment to American values to slip down the list of priorities. We saw last week what happens when Americans are fed – and believe – lies and diverge from these national values.
It’s not necessary to start from scratch to develop a way to accomplish this goal. Creating a bi-partisan Unity Council, as recommended by CNN (Opinion: Our Country Is Tearing Itself Apart. Here’s One Way to Bring People Together, Justin Gest and Wendy Felix, Sept. 12, 2020) is a brilliant concept, as long as it embraces not only leaders but individuals representing the “real” America. The report by the Academy of Arts and Sciences, “Our Common Purpose,” contains an even more detailed blueprint for renewing our understanding of and commitment to democratic principles. Concepts include as a national service, mandatory voting as a requirement of citizenship, a “Telling Our Nation’s Story” initiative to engage communities throughout the country in direct, open-ended and inclusive conversations about America, tied to the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The report contains many of the recommendations that are also in my book, “Magenta Nation,” written for the average citizen about how to bring Americans together again through agreement on common values, concern for one another, and service.
Bringing people of different backgrounds and beliefs together to talk, solve problems, and get to know each other is at the heart of bridging the divide that separates us. People and beliefs that are not known to us or are different can easily be made into a danger to be fought and controlled. Fear breeds hatred and violence. We are in times of unprecedented change. We must come together to get through it and realize a new America, indeed a new world. We must transform fear and suspicion into trust and commitment to a common vision that is bigger and better than what we have or have had.
As a professional communications expert, I believe there is an important area that we must address in bridging the chasm that separates the factions in America in ways that are very dangerous to our democracy. For a generation, as communication channels have gotten narrower and targeted, huge numbers of Americans have lived on a diet of one-sided and even incorrect information. People around them reinforced these beliefs. These attitudes are so deeply ingrained today that it only takes a few influencers making false statements to get millions of people buying into completely imaginary conspiracy theories or plots.
The solution means re-addressing what “freedom of speech” means today, especially in light of digital communication. Free speech is a right conferred on all Americans. But “freedom of speech” does not confer the right to harm individuals or groups. Unfounded “remedies” for COVID that actually cause sickness or even death are one example of free speech channels used to spread false information that endangered people. Hate speech is another example. Hate speech is already illegal, in recognition of its power to inspire hate crimes and violence. However, such laws are not enforced as they should be.
There is another way to look at the harm that false information causes. In legal terms, fraud encompasses two components: telling a lie, and having people act on that lie in ways that harm them If people believe lies that they are endangered by certain people or races, or that specific actions will help them when these actions actually harm them, isn’t that a form of fraud? Individuals – especially those in public office and those with influence – who spread factually inaccurate information that people then act on and are consequently harmed, are guilty of a form of fraud. We should not hold back from requiring people, especially those in the position to influence millions, from sticking to standards of truth in their pronouncements.
The flood of misinformation that has caused our current divide is compounded by the failure to articulate what true public servants are trying to – and are accomplishing – for the American people. Liberal voices are fragmented because the left represents multiple viewpoints; while the right has coalesced around a set of single, powerful messages that are now deeply ingrained in people’s psyches. An example is the ACA. Political victory is not the same as a public opinion win. While the law was passed, the public was not sold on its benefits from a “real person” perspective. Consequently, it was vulnerable to misrepresentation that convinced many it was a “bad law” and a failure when in reality, millions of people gained health coverage for the first time.
Along with the work of discussion, dialogue and consensus, here’s what we need to do to reverse the disinformation deluge:
- Hold digital companies responsible for the veracity of the information they post. Failure to remove hate speech, or false information designed to inspire fear and violence, should be removed. If it is not, the company should experience serious penalties.
- Information that is not supported by evidence should be flagged. Twitter’s tagging of Trump’s recent posts is an example.
- If influencers – including newscasters – are found to be repeatedly presenting false information not backed by evidence, they should be barred from the platform.
- Bravely speak the truth on platforms that traditionally present only one-sided views. That means the liberals going on Fox News, and conservative perspectives being part of mainstream media. It’s expected that this will cause debate, which needs to be fact-checked in real time.
- Conduct more town halls with both sides speaking out and being tasked to come to a consensus, as a feature of our national dialogue.
- Churches of all types must be brought into this dialogue.
- Well known influencers and celebrities should also be part of this communication campaign, which cannot be seen as successful if it is purely political.
This challenge may seem daunting. However, a change of only 10 percent of the population will cause the culture to shift. When presented with facts, 30 percent of people typically change their minds. In the current system, there is a huge void in which millions of people do not hear facts – only misinformation.
Please keep in mind that this initiative is not about proselytizing – it is about communicating and listening. When people of different viewpoints communicate and problem-solve, everyone changes and often “third force” ideas that are palatable to both parties, are identified. People on the right have legitimate concerns that must be heard. Where we have gone awry is that the wrong solutions are being pushed to answer their concerns, when better options are available. We all need to open our minds and START TALKING PRODUCTIVELY, in an organized way.
Here’s a link to my book, “Magenta Nation,” and the Magenta Nation blog.
Interested in healing America? Order "Magenta Nation" today and get started.
Think people can’t change their beliefs? Read “Love or Loyalty” to see the power of forgiveness in healing relationships and our nation.
Wondering about how families can heal, even after death? Read “Love Eternal... One More Time” to be amused and enlightened.