The following editorial was published Jan. 19 on the website of the Catholic Review, archdiocesan magazine of Baltimore. It was written by Christopher Gunty, who is associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
Four years ago, I reflected on the 2016 presidential election, noting that no matter who won, a lot of people would be unhappy with the outcome. The headline of that editorial was, “After the invective, what do we do?”
“Our elections lately have become unfriendly affairs,” I wrote in the January 2017 edition of the Catholic Review magazine. “Gone are the days of well-reasoned discourse about policy and what’s best for the people of this country. Snark and vitriol defined not only the presidential campaign, but many contests for local, state and federal offices.”
That election cycle was bad, but who could have predicted then just how horrible the aftermath of the 2020 election would be? Who would ever have predicted it would culminate in the siege of the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6? Who could have predicted that supporters of the incumbent president would march through the halls of the Capitol calling for the hanging of the incumbent vice president?
There is a grand gulf between invective and violence, a colleague reminded me.
What drove some people to attack “the People’s House” to disrupt and attempt to overturn a legal election for which there has been no evidence presented of widespread fraud? Certainly, anger — anger that the candidate they believe is a savior to their cause(s) was not reelected. And frustration. (Riots last summer protesting the deaths of people of color, especially at the hands of police officers, also were born of anger and frustration over centuries of racial injustice.)
But a lot of what drove the insurrection in early January was misinformation and lies. Most of the protesters who were encouraged by President Donald Trump to “stop the steal” follow only websites and news sources that share their way of thinking, and much of that news is inaccurate and unreliable.
The media bias chart (at adfontesmedia.com) rates news sources on their bias — from skews left or right to extreme left or right — and reliability, ranging from “fact reporting” at the high end to “contains misleading info” or “contains inaccurate/fabricated info” at the low end.
Unfortunately, most of the sources the site judges as having a high rate of fact reporting skew to the left. It’s important to keep that bias in mind. It’s equally important to remember that facts matter; just because a source leans one way or the other does not make the facts “fake news.”
Also, unfortunately, there are a large number of sources oriented to the far right that score miserably on reliability by having incomplete stories or unfair presentation of facts or analysis.
In the editorial four years ago, I called for civil discourse — disagreeing when necessary but doing so with civility and respect. That seems unlikely now, but it is even more vital.
As the nation prepares for the inauguration of President Joe Biden, we hope and pray the event is conducted smoothly and safely.
The incoming president has called for unity. That sounds great, but it’s no easy task, and it is made more difficult by President Trump’s rhetoric in the months before the election and the weeks after it.
It will be President Joe Biden’s job to be a healer, and a uniter. He would do well not to antagonize the Republican base immediately.
It would be predictable for Biden to rescind on day one the Mexico City policy — which prohibits foreign organizations from using American aid money to promote abortion — as other Democratic presidents have done. Don’t do it.
It would be tempting to push through regulations that would require religious organizations and health care providers to offer contraceptive coverage to their employees, even if it’s against the teachings of their faith. The new president, a practicing Catholic, should do the unpredictable thing in this case: Don’t do it.
There are plenty of other “wins” for the Biden administration to take in the first 100 days. It would be wise for him to douse, rather than fan, the flames of anger and violence. He cannot force his opponents to listen to facts, but if he truly wants to unite the country, he needs to do things a lot different from the way past administrations have done.
Yes, he won, and that gives him the platform to achieve the goals he intends to pursue. But first among those goals must be healing.
The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicPhilly.com, Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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