Stop Sleepwalking and Start Fighting!

Published: January 9, 2024

By Jim Lichtman
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Alarm bells go off on every page of former Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s book, “Oath and Honor,” . . . every page.

At New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College last Friday, Cheney continued to press her message to primary voters.

“Tell the world who we are with your vote. Tell them that we are a good and a great nation. Show the world that we will defeat the plague of cowardice sweeping through the Republican Party. Our nation can survive and recover from policy mistakes. We cannot recover from a president willing to torch the Constitution.”

Reading detail after detail that led up to and after January 6, her message of urgency rings loudly. It got me stirred up. I wanted to write about our responsibility as citizens and the courage necessary to defend what is good about American democracy and call out what is antithetical.

Then I realized I’d already written it last May. Nonetheless, much of it bears repeating.

It’s time for Americans to stop “sleepwalking,” as Atlantic writer Tom Nichols writes, and start fighting for our way of life.

It’s time for Americans to find the mettle to stand up and stand together against the hate and the violence that has become a crippling disease; stand up to bullies who are more interested in pulling us down instead of lifting us up.

We know the people who lift us up. They’re pillars of character in every town and city in America. They’re role models of decency, respect, and responsibility.

It’s time to accept our responsibility to change the conditions that pull us apart. We control our destiny, not tyrants who pretend to know what’s right for us.

And when we feel overwhelmed by all the hateful rhetoric that takes us away from our pursuit of happiness, it’s time to fight for who we are and what we stand for—a democracy of, by, and for the people. We can debate how we get there, but without a moral compass, we will never achieve our long-term goal of being the best we can be for ourselves, our families, and our country.

During England’s greatest existential crisis during World War II, CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow wanted “to understand what sustained this island people: what belief or mythology caused them to stand so steady in their shoes. The bottom of this calm confidence stemmed from a belief that what they were defending was good . . . They believed not only in themselves but that they were fighting against evil things, and the fight was worthwhile.”

Despite the mess we’ve made for ourselves, it’s time to move beyond the fear, doubt, and deceit, look deep into our souls, and revive our faith in ourselves and each other. It’s time to look toward the common good, not for the few, and not to tear down but to build each other up.

In American democracy’s crisis of conscience, it’s time for each of us to find the conviction, the passion, the faith, and the moral courage to act on what we know is right. Those are the virtues this country was founded on; those are the virtues from which we have always drawn our greatest strength in times of crisis.

It’s time for Americans to find that strength of character again.

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