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American Angst

By Kevin Martin

Our country is currently in a battle with a disease that has now afflicted the world for a year. This fight with our invisible enemy does seem to be coming ever closer to an end. This is not meant to undermine the severity and the pain that this dangerous disease has caused; the contention is simply that the worst is likely behind us. Due to a multitude of factors, COVID-19 cases have seen a national nose-dive since early January. The 2-week trend for Covid cases, according to the New York Times, has seen a 45% reduction. To make matters even better, our vaccine distribution has been averaging 1.5 million doses per day, and if all goes to plan this number will only get higher. We have reason to hope for an escape from this misery, and we also now have the means to do so. This is great news indeed! Americans ought to be in a cheerful mood, for our generation’s version of “V-Day” rapidly approaches. But, to my chagrin, the American psyche is weighed down by anxiety. This American angst has not arisen from fear of any disease or foreign power, but rather it is a creation of our own making; it is a fear of ourselves.

On Jan. 6, America’s attention was fixated on our Capitol. Rioters, determined to "fix" a "stolen" election, stormed the U.S. Capitol building. Anger swelled through this crowd of thugs and mob mentality took control. They sought after prominent politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mitt Romney, and Mike Pence. It is due to the bravery of the Capitol Police and the mob's incompetence that they did not find these politicians. Truly the worst could have occurred had they succeeded.

Americans across the nation were shocked and angered by what they had witnessed. And it served to solidify what many already believed; that those politically misaligned from them were the true enemy to be feared. It is fair to categorize those who stormed the Capital, and the people who encouraged them, as threats to our republic. Nonetheless, the idea that we can transpose the actions of these few onto tens of millions of fellow Americans is a dangerous one indeed. Whether we like it or not, there will always be those in this country with whom we disagree, even on the most basic of principles. This is the nature of any free society.

What truly matters today is what we as a nation do going forward. Do we, out of fear of our neighbors, pass new domestic terrorism laws? Certainly, this is unnecessary. It could hardly be argued that our security apparatus is either underfunded or lacking the requisite power to safeguard this country from attack, whether that be internal or external. Jan. 6’s catastrophe occurred without serious resistance not because our security is weak, but because the relevant agencies were both lacking presidential leadership and incompetent. Ultimately, they failed to recognize the evident threat brewing before it was too late. The answer is no, new Patriot Act-type legislation is not what we should do, for if we act in fear without thought to the consequences, we very well might regret it.

What then can be done to settle this American anxiety? Some national tasks come to mind: for example, certain members of the Republican Party ought to be excised from the organization to save it from solidifying into a total cult of personality. It is also critical to reduce the rhetorical heat in this country, especially from the media. These tasks, however, are large, too large for the likes of you or me to accomplish on our own.

This being the case, I propose that we focus on what we can do as individuals. We must cultivate ourselves into more respectful and thoughtful people, with careful attention to how we treat others in our daily lives. If by chance we encounter those with whom we disagree, we must not shout at them or shame them; rather, it would be most productive to talk to them. In reality, the only way for Americans to stop fearing their neighbors is for them to make friends with their neighbors. Yes, disagreements are bound to take place, but friendship has a way of smoothing such things over. This solution requires effort and dedication; it is not simply a post on Instagram and then a return to normal life. Make no mistake, the issues that we face are significant. No single action or person can relieve the national pressure. But I truly believe that if we aspire to relieve this American angst, making deliberate efforts to be better, more friendly Americans, we as a nation might someday be able to celebrate our eventual victory over COVID-19.

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