Symposium | Halfway Home?

Justice, Not Revenge

By Rose Mary Salum

Tagged DemocracyDemocrats

The past two years have been a surprising experience, to say the least. We’ve seen the unimaginable, from the separation of families to the rise of white nationalism. We’ve experienced racism and censorship. We’ve witnessed abuse of power and a blatant and public objectification of women. But what has struck me the most is the disregard for the facts. Nowadays, everyone is entitled to their own facts because truth is no longer relevant. As Michiko Kakutani mentions, former President Barack Obama has noted that “One of the biggest challenges we have to our democracy is the degree to which we do not share a common baseline of facts”; it seems that we are “operating in completely different information universes.”

We are trapped in our partisan perspectives and are losing a sense of shared reality and an ability to communicate across social and sectarian lines. As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction . . . and the distinction between true and false . . . no longer exist.”

How can we restore our capacity for dialogue? How can we stop the continuing division created by the narrative conveniently used by our governors? But above all, how can we all return to the old objective way of finding the true connection between words and facts without submitting to the temptation of perpetuating a narrative that has proven false but successful?

I fear for the future of the truth and of our democracy. It’s hard for me to visualize a country that has cut off all means of dialogue in spite of the fact that English is the “official” language. Until now, we haven’t been able to find the common ground, the very basic element to communicate between one another.

I’ve imagined different scenarios as I’ve searched for an answer to this dilemma. I haven’t been able to find a way to combat this new era where language has been corrupted to its roots, where rationality has been sliced and demonized in order to be subsumed by populist ideas. The only hope that I can think of is in the way Democrats will conduct themselves now that they have regained some power.

It’s imperative that they behave out of justice and not revenge. Will they fall into the temptation of the siren’s chants? Or will they cover their ears in the search for what is right, what is just, and what is true? We desperately need them to get organized, and to bring the country back to its center. Otherwise, the indiscriminate use of falsehoods will corrode our institutions and disintegrate the notion on which this country was built, we the people.

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Rose Mary Salum is founding editor of the bilingual literary magazine Literal: Latin American Voices and Literal Publishing. She has authored The Water that Rocks the Silence (winner of the International Latino Book Award and the Panamerican Award Carlos Montemayor), Delta de las arenas: cuentos árabes, cuentos judíos, and Spaces in Between.

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