Fearful and frustrated? Put some energy into Utah’s democracy, the Editorial Board writes

Our enemy is not a foreign invader, but Americans who would divide us.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol flies the Ukrainian flag in support of Ukraine, on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022.

It speaks well of humanity that so many of us who, before last week, could not have found Ukraine on a map, are now truly worried about what is happening there.

Buildings are lighting up in blue and yellow. People are following events and signaling their support on social media. The Russian invasion occupies serious news broadcasts and late night comedy. There are public rallies as far away as Salt Lake City. Russian products are banned, Russian assets locked up, good people are sending everything from hot meals to anti-tank weapons to help those fleeing Ukraine and those defending it.

It may not seem like much, but one does what one can.

While we are holding our humanity dear, feeling a little helpless and wondering what we might do if we were in the position of the residents of Kyiv and Kharkiv, it would be a good time to channel some of that nervous energy into building up the freedom and security of wherever it is you happen to be.

It should not take missile attacks and tank columns to move people to worry about the survival of democracy where they live. To ask themselves if they are doing what they can to create a society where everyone is safe, everyone is welcome, everyone is able to go about their business without fear.

In the United States, in Utah, the threats to our security and our democracy come less from outside our borders than within our neighborhoods. Too many of us are hungry, homeless, under-educated and under-employed. The air is bad, water is scarce, traffic is snarled and natural resources are being too quickly squandered.

Rather than face those issues, too many people who are, or who wish to be, in power are using our insecurities to distract us by turning us against one another.

Politicians and social media influencers — many of the same ones who make excuses for Vladimir Putin and admire the Russian autocrat’s strength — gain support by moving privileged classes to fear that Black people or immigrants or LGBTQ folks are somehow trying to tear down the structure of society, when all any of us wants is to be treated with the dignity and equality the American creed has always promised.

If America does have a foreign enemy, that enemy’s greatest wish would be for the divisions of society to be driven deeper and our mutual mistrust and resentment to grow. For people to be suspicious of their neighbors, their federal government, their police officers, their doctors, their teachers, their news media.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney sees the problem. He looks at Russia, looks at members of his own Republican Party, a party that used to subscribe to the idea that partisanship ends at the water’s edge, sees GOP members of Congress featured at white supremacist rallies and rightly connects the dots.

Speaking Sunday on CNN, Romney quoted a line from the Utah-made movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”: “Morons. I’ve got morons on my team.”

In Utah, a handful of lawmakers and others who should be about the business of making our system of public education stronger and more inclusive are instead spreading unwarranted fear about everything from “critical race theory” and “divisive concepts” to a supposed onslaught of dirty books and literature that dares to tell the truth about the racial divide that has cursed us from before our nation’s birth.

True strength as a nation, as a people, will come not from papering over our sins and mistakes but from looking them straight in the face. Sexual morality and autonomy comes not from exclusion and fear but from understanding the truth of human experience and diversity.

We can handle it. Or, at least, our children can.

Worried about the future of you community and your nation? Good. But you won’t help by bunkering yourself away or turning on one another.

Get a little outside your comfort zone, away from your social media newsfeed.

Get to know your neighbors. Can you even name them? Volunteer at your school or to teach immigrants to speak English. Help the homeless or the mentally ill.

If you are too shy or exhausted for such active pursuits, and a lot of us are, at least be sure to register and vote. And tell your elected officials what you think.

Nobody is asking you to pick up an AK-47 to defend your community. Nobody needs your grandmother to make Molotov cocktails. Here and now, those would be exactly the wrong things to do.

Be a good citizen and a good neighbor. Care about each other a little bit. Compared to the problems some people have, it’s not that difficult.