The Struggle for the Soul of America: Can We Learn from the Wildfires?

Friday afternoon my friend John and I helped another friend evacuate his home to escape the wildfires raging in northern New Mexico. As I carried a few of the precious belongings he wished to save from the house to his SUV, I saw the billowing dark smoke ominously rising in the distant sky.

We had no idea how long it would take before the fire might engulf his home. But he could not wait to find out. He knew he must leave while he still could. It was truly a harrowing experience.

Later that evening another friend called John. She said the smoke at her home was making it difficult to breathe. Could she and her son seek refuge at John’s place? Their car packed with their most valued possessions, they arrived at John’s around 10 p.m. that night. Tragically, they had to leave their horses behind.

Both John’s home and my home are 25 miles or more west of the wildfires. Since the winds are blowing northeasterly, we do not appear to be in any danger. But those winds are wicked. While assisting our friend’s evacuation, gusts must have reached 60 mph at times. There’s no guarantee they won’t turn around and put us in harm’s way.

All this makes me stop in my tracks and rethink our current state. What could be more valued than a good friend willing to drop everything and come to your rescue at a perilous time? What could be more precious than a supportive community working together to save people’s homes from a deadly fire?

Yet, our political culture tends to distance us from neighbors with contrary views. Rather than seeking common ground to work on together, we try to overcome those who see things differently than we do. Just think how much better off our country would be if Democrats and Republicans, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy, could work together for the common good of all Americans.

It can and does happen. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act which promotes online competition has broad bipartisan support. The bill would prevent the biggest platforms, such as Google and Facebook, from giving themselves an advantage over smaller competitors. The GOP joined the Democrats in supporting this legislation which prohibits big tech firms like Amazon from giving its in-house branded products a leg-up over other brands when someone is shopping on its site. Instead of backing their big business allies as they usually do, Republicans put the interests of the American people in fair competition first.[1]

But fires are not only erupting in our forests. In state houses across the country as well as in the halls of Congress, our politicians are throwing verbal fireballs at each other. If we are to rescue our democracy from these overheated partisan flames, this needs to stop. We need to find a way to reach well-meaning Americans with divergent views to lower the temperature and work together for the common good without sacrificing our values. The American Innovation and Choice Online Act is a step in the right direction.

Bruce Berlin, J.D.

A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at breakingbigmoneysgrip@gmail.com.

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[1] https://www.wired.com/story/american-innovation-choice-online-act-antitrust-google-amazon/