PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — The Truth Will Set Us Free

My social media presence is fairly deliberate and intentional. I try to vary it between vignettes from my day to day life, spiritual reflections and my commentary on what is transpiring in the world around me. I have worked hard to not be the person who only rants about politics, although depending on what is going on, I will occasionally become obsessed short term.

I think the reason I still have friends who disagree with me politically on Facebook is because they know they will occasionally get a good laugh out of one of my absurdities or find a word of hope in a prayer I share. Anyone who knows me knows I’m political. It goes with the territory. As long as people remain polite in disagreement (I don’t tolerate anything but meaningful dialogue), I don’t unfriend people.

Prior to June, 2015, most of my political views that I posted were issue-driven. My passions have always centered on the last, the lost and least and those in the shadows, and I have never been afraid to speak up about injustice. I did, after all, write my first political letter at the age of 5 to Richard Nixon, questioning the efficacy of the Vietnam War and mailed it, unbeknownst to my  parents — in particular my father, who was a Canadian citizen.

If you had told me that I would be as outspoken as I have been about one individual since the ride down the Golden Elevator, I would have said you were crazy. At that time, I had served as  pastor in rural North Dakota and MInnesota for over 25 years and I knew that I could be bold about justice and still engage people who may not share my beliefs. I could concentrate on WHY I was disturbed or angry and not make it about the person but the policy.

But that changed with Donald Trump. He was not new to my radar. During the 1980s, I saw him as the embodiment of all that I despise, with his racism, narcissism, greed and misogyny. I was sickened by the birtherism movement as well as his ability to appeal to people’s baser instincts.

My fears have been recorded ad nauseam over the past five years, in posts and blogs. Fears that we were like the proverbial frog in the boiling water, accepting more and more and normalizing abhorrent behavior. Fears that were realized Wednesday with the attempted coup to stop the validation of a free and fair election by force.

The beliefs Trump espoused have always been present in a country where systemic racism corrupts and corrodes, but what he did was bring them out of the shadows and throw them into the mainstream. People who had previously been ashamed of their racist and xenophobic convictions were emboldened to believe their hate and divisiveness was socially acceptable.They didn’t think twice about harassing immigrants and people of color and spewing hate speech.

At the same time, I saw people I respect, people I believe are good and decent at their core, look the other way in the face of things I know they knew were wrong. They ended up living out the adage that “You promote what you permit.”  Rather than naming the evil actions, they ignored them. Again and again, I wrote that this was not about politics — it was about core values.  It was about democratic principles and beliefs.

In the aftermath of the violence and sedition that was endorsed by the man who lost the election by over 7 million votes and 74 Electoral College votes, I have been outspoken about the need to address the lie that President Biden was not duly elected in a free, fair — and by all accounts, including countless court cases — secure election as well as holding accountable those who are seeking to overthrow this government as well as those who lit the match to ignite the mayhem.

As someone who preaches unity and trying to find a way forward in the face of this great divide, I have been accused of being deliberately divisive because I am calling out the wrongdoers as well as their deeds. And I shake my head at the failure to see that we need to be accountable for our actions. As Santayan said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

People who were horrified by what happened at the Capitol — and I know many people who voted for Trump were — can’t merely sweep under the rug all that transpired leading up to it and move on. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Andrew Johnson’s Amnesty and Reconstruction Plan held no one accountable for the Civil War and as a result, the sins of the Jim Crow South continue to plague us.

Jesus cleared the Temple. The Nuremburg Trials required people to deal with the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Desmond Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the evils of apartheid. All of that was necessary to cleanse the wound and allow healing to begin.

I want our nation to move forward in peace and unity. But looking the other way in the face of criminal activity is not the way to do that, and allowing people in elected leadership to perpetuate a lie that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were not duly elected is equally wrong. Anyone who continues to cling to that needs to repent. They need, in the words of Mitt Romney, to “tell the voters the truth.”

And  we need to call those who stormed the Capitol what they are. I have protested MANY times and taken part in nonviolent resistance. They weren’t protesters. They were domestic terrorists who put up a noose and hung the Confederate flag on the People’s House.

The truth will set us free — truth that allows us to see where we went wrong and how we can work together. But that can only happen if we hold those who orchestrated the lies accountable and if we repudiate those who continue to cling to it.

Although I am a dyed in the wool progressive, I have always prided myself in having friends who may not share my ideology but who share my values. We have always been able to find common ground that way.

As a nation, I believe the same is true — we need two viable political parties that can disagree about ideas but not the basics of our Constitution and free and fair elections, And that starts on the firm foundations of facts and accountability for those who lie about them to distort, divide and destroy. Unity can’t exist unless we deal with the lies and move forward walking in the light of truth.

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