Editorial: Seek ways to heal, not incite, as strife spreads across nation

Protestors hold signs in protest of racism and police violence in Hermiston on Monday, June 1, 2020. (Ben Lonergan/East Oregonian)

The strains on our nation, on we the people, mount by the day. We are being tested as we seldom have in recent decades and how we react now says much about us as a country. No easy choices are ahead.

Here, in Malheur County, we may seem immune to what is happening. But the tentacles of chaos and dysfunction reach to us here on the edge of Oregon, make no mistake. Not one of us can look away, can say it’s only a trauma for New York or Chicago or Portland. It is a trauma for us all.

The us vs. them view of issues has hardened here as it has across the country. Doubt that? Consider the local impacts of the pandemic.

Some people see the coronavirus as a threat to the lives and well-being of people across this sprawling county. Others see a conspiracy – an infection cooked up in a Chinese lab or a fake virus intended by the government to throttle our freedoms.

Take the simple matter of wearing a mask. Some see that as the right, respectful step to take. Others scoff, dismissing the word of health experts as alarmist and uninformed.

One of the most cherished freedoms in America – the freedom of religion – also has divided the country. Some, including church leaders, see the restrictions of communal worshipping as a prudent precaution. Others look at the same facts and see illegal restraint, an affront to the U.S. Constitution and no good reason to keep church doors closed.

And now, from coast to coast, cities are ripped apart by demonstrations protesting racism that turn violent. Cities of every size are seeing mobs trash and burn police cars, destroy businesses and ransack stores. The images of helmeted police, carrying shields and pepper spray, are ubiquitous.

Not everyone going to a demonstration is bent on destruction. Peaceful protest is as fundamental to our democracy as voting. That’s how citizens raise their voices over those of the politicians and bureaucrats. Those raised voices can be a force for necessary and speedier reforms and change that make the country stronger, better.

Confusing the two motivations, treating them all as the same, ignores history, tradition, and what’s right.

What’s apparent is that we are witnessing a great uncorking of citizen sentiment. Something is wrong out there. Too many people feel they are falling behind, if not failing in life altogether. Too many people of color, and that counts our Latino residents of Malheur County, feel they are subjects of abuse and neglect. And the intensity of despair seems now mirrored among what’s left of the middle class, less able to afford a decent home, to send a child to college, to build a retirement fund.

Increasingly people seem more intent on placing blame than resolving to progress. The sentiment seems to be that our collective failures are somebody’s fault. And so we deflect responsibility by pointing an accusing finger – “You did it.” You closed our schools. You took my job. You passed laws that limit my life. 

We are too ready to believe the worst of others while overlooking the faults of our tribes – political, social or economic.

No matter where you stand on politics or the economy, none of that will matter much if this approaching summer imperils the country and our community. Make no mistake. We are at great risk of devolving into a country you wouldn’t recognize. That’s a grim and depressing prospect. And it doesn’t need to be.

Coming out of this era won’t be a matter of an election or a prosecution or a stock market surge. This will require every one of us to help. We must resort to our better natures, to do what is right, fair and just. That doesn’t have to happen just in Atlanta or Los Angeles and Eugene. That needs to happen in Ontario and Vale and Adrian, for remote as we are, we remain Americans and have a duty to preserve and protect this country. 


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