Now begins the real work: How to heal

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(The writer was just sworn in to her second term as a U.S. representative representing Michigan’s 8th Congressional District, which includes all of Ingham County.)

So much has happened in the first few weeks of this year: I started the year by taking my oath of office on the House floor for the second time, to again represent the people of Michigan’s 8th District, the greatest privilege of my life. And I prepared to watch from the steps of the U.S. Capitol as President Biden and Vice President Harris took theirs. But between those two events, it was painful to be in the Capitol, just days earlier the scene of a violent insurrection that sought to prevent that peaceful transfer of power from happening.

But I want to talk about what comes next.

Now, our real work begins: figuring out how we heal, how we work together again, and how we somehow remember that we are one country, with a shared destiny.

 Because, as recent events have laid bare, the single greatest threat to America’s national security is the internal division in our own country. The 20 years of the post 9/11 era, where our nation’s greatest threats were external, is officially over.

 Our democracy simply cannot survive if Americans retreat into their own silos, consuming their own media and ignoring those who disagree with them. If they see their neighbors as enemies and treat them as such. Anyone who thinks that we can just divide into two Americas hasn’t been to Michigan, and certainly hasn’t been to Michigan’s 8th District. We cannot live like that, and I simply refuse to accept that irreconcilable division as the new norm in our country.

So we’re going to have to find some love in our hearts and listen to each other, even though that’s hard. I’ll be honest: I’m struggling on how to reconcile with my colleagues who voted to reject the will of the people, including Michigan voters, and overturn the results of a free and fair election. But I must.

Now, hearing one another doesn’t mean we abandon our principles. It doesn’t mean we tolerate violence in our politics — no matter who it’s from — or give space to the rise of extremist and white supremacist groups. And we must have accountability in order to move forward. Those who violate our laws and threaten our communities must always be held accountable.

 But we have got to find ways to give our fellow Americans off-ramps from the overheated rhetoric and toxic politics that proliferated for the last four years. We have to be able to disagree without questioning each other’s underlying motives. And we have to start recognizing that good-faith policy disagreements — even vigorous disagreements based on strong beliefs— are not the same as zero-sum tests of our patriotism.

So where do we go from here? We must start with building back the connective tissue and trust in our communities. We’ve got to put money in the bank with each other, so that when we’re ready to talk about politics, we have a strong foundation to go on. We can do that by focusing on shared interests that have nothing to do with politics: saving our local businesses, rescuing pets, expanding our local library. Whatever you’re into, redouble your efforts to get off social media and really invest in engaging in your community. 

 This past week, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it felt so good to get out and do some community service and not talk about politics with other volunteers. It felt good to connect with strangers about our common desire to feed hungry kids. I see it as part of my responsibility as an elected official for this district, particularly in the months ahead, to help use my convening authority to bring people together.

In the days and weeks to come, we may not see eye to eye — but it does not mean we need to be at each other’s throats. Let us turn down the temperature and move forward, united in common purpose. No less than the future of our republic — and our national security — depends on it.

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