se cupp what comes next 10 2
SE Cupp: Our republic is broken. Can we fix it?
03:33 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Watch the full conversation with SE Cupp and her panel of experts on “What Comes Next?” here. Jim Himes, a Democrat, represents Connecticut’s 4th District in the US House of Representatives. The views expressed here are solely his. View more opinion articles on CNN.

CNN  — 

As we swear in a new President and look to a new era in Washington DC, a cloud of anger and fear hangs over America after pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol. President-elect Joe Biden has big plans and a serious mandate, but he will have to govern a divided nation, one that was nearly torn apart by a mob hellbent on destroying it. I talk to US Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut and CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen about what comes next for America’s fragile democracy. But first, Rep. Himes writes this week’s CNN op-ed. –SE Cupp

On January 6, America almost lost its democracy. I was in the House chamber as officers piled furniture in front of doors and pointed their weapons at insurrectionists intent on tearing down humankind’s most recognized temple to self-government.

Jim Himes

I’ve been thinking about a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, where he tells a group of citizens that the Constitutional Convention delegates have crafted a republic “if you can keep it.” He didn’t say “if we can keep it,” referring to his fellow Founders in Independence Hall. He put the burden on the citizens in the street in 18th century Philadelphia: “if you can keep it.”

Make no mistake. We elected officials have immense work to do. Americans have near record levels of distrust for their government, some so much that they would violently try to tear it down. Joe Biden, our President-elect, must address this bleak reality in everything he says and does. He must demand accountability for those who would seek to destroy us, even as he welcomes all those who long for a less divided nation.

He and Congress must end the ideology-fueled gridlock that prevents progress on the problems that besiege Americans every day. For years, the federal government has been largely immobile on crumbling infrastructure, climate change, gun violence, systemic racism and receding economic opportunity. We must do something novel: listen, compromise and solve problems.

We also need to change the way we talk about who we are and what we do. Most Republicans, by knowingly repeating lies and madcap conspiracy theories, nurtured the lethal Trump insurrection. Even today, many seemed more outraged at their loss of Twitter followers than at the violence that killed five Americans, threatened their lives and laid waste to their workplace.

And while the Republican Party has gone to a uniquely dark place, Democrats have some soul searching to do as well. On Election Day, more than 74 million Americans looked at our candidate, a profoundly decent man of integrity, empathy and experience, and chose instead four more years of President Donald Trump.

Many of us win elections by trashing the institution we desperately want to join. We campaign on draining the swamp, destroying the establishment, ending business-as-usual – and then we’re puzzled when we return home to rage and suspicion. Worse, and fatally, too many of us tell the American people that the opposition is not just wrong, but evil, immoral and a threat to the country.

And let’s be clear: There’s a short fuse between Republican cries of election fraud and a police officer being beaten by an angry pro-Trump mob on the Capitol’s steps.

But back to Franklin’s “you.” I’m convinced that whether or not we keep our democracy – Franklin’s republic – is in fact up to you. Government of, by and for the people is not some happy gift of history. It is a challenge to each of us. It imposes obligations and duties, many of which are neither comfortable nor intuitive.

As broken glass is swept from the floors of the Capitol, we must decide now whether we will be worthy citizens or passive consumers, repeatedly doping ourselves with posts and memes that scratch our itches and fire up our tribes. Do we grapple with the messiness of complicated reality, or do we close our minds to all but those facts that validate our beliefs?

Today we live in radically different media – and social media – universes. We can’t debate policy because we don’t agree on basic facts. One difference between a citizen and a political dope addict is that a citizen is open to learning and seeing reality from different points of view, whereas an addict only feeds his political point of view with reinforcing sources of information.

Ask yourself: Do you work every day to get ideas and information from responsible sources with which you disagree? Do you see inconvenient facts as opportunities to learn or as evidence of someone’s ignorance or treason?

A commitment to citizenship also requires a firm rejection of those ridiculous two words: “both sides.” That both sides “do it,” whatever “it” may be, is an anesthetizing balm for tribalists faced with uncomfortable evidence of wrongdoing. Yes, violent protest is always wrong. And yes, both the right and left have risible activists who accept or promote it. But to equate violence by a small group of antifa protesters in Portland with a presidentially-instigated insurrection in Washington D.C. is not just wrong, it’s madness.

A close cousin of the “both sides” opium poisoning our minds is whataboutism. Whataboutism holds no water as a moral defense when offered by toddlers battling for crayons. But it is now the go-to political get-out-of-jail-free card. For every clear breach of law or decency by Trump there is a bottomless inventory of transgressions by some Democrat to make everything right. Through some unholy alchemy, breaking a window in the Capitol is excused by a broken window in Portland.

No party or individual has a monopoly on sin or virtue. After the Civil War, the Democratic Party worked to reestablish murderous White supremacy in the South. There were no “both sides.” Meanwhile, last week, and over the last four years, the Republican Party supported and excused every anti-constitutional depredation of Trump, such as his desire to baselessly contest ballots that were lawfully cast and affirmed by the Electoral College, including on the very day of the insurrection. There were no “both sides.”

Get our free weekly newsletter

  • Sign up for CNN Opinion’s newsletter.
  • Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    That “they do it, too” is not a defense in kindergarten, in court or in the politics of a supposedly great democracy.

    Finally, there is no better way to be a participant in our experiment in self-government than to actually get involved in it. Even if you’re not thrilled by the details of school budgets or suburban zoning, the act of working with others on those things is an education that money can’t buy. I’ve noticed that it is much easier to work in the Congress with colleagues who were mayors or governors, people who actually had to run police forces, organize garbage collection and get real things done in their communities. They understand the need to listen to all points of view and to craft a compromise.

    Reflect on 5,000 years of recorded human history. I believe that the vast majority of humans who have ever lived would trade their stations to be a citizen of our democratic republic. It is a supremely valuable gift. If we do not actively burnish and cherish it, we will lose it.