We can’t allow differences to divide us

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, January 1, 2023 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Addis Belay, Kamehameha Schools-Kapalama student, class of 2025.

Democracy is much more than a collection of rules, customs and institutions. It is also an open communication environment that gives everyone the freedom to express themselves and use any persuasive technique they want. Our democracy is at risk because we are plagued with an inability to communicate with one another, which divides our country and weaponizes our constitutional rights. Liberals and conservatives may not agree on everything, but both can appreciate democracy giving them the platform to argue and engage with each other.

The freedom of speech itself is the right to speak your opinion without censorship. At first glance, having such a right indicates that our democracy is working. The fact that radical or hateful ideas exist shows that our democracy facilitates a wide variety of ideals. Exercising this right has become important as we begin to point out systemic problems and violent trends. Pointing out these faults is an example of using freedom of speech as it was intended: to make a more perfect union.

However, allowing words to build on long-standing political divides and spread hate to our citizens illustrates that this right has been weaponized. Open dialogue in the political sphere is actively being diluted due to uncensored prejudice. Rather than discuss reform, they would rather point blame, deflect, and ignore current problems. While communication in the political sphere should be about finding solutions, it has become about demonizing opposing ideologies. This causes us to be less likely to work together and more likely to turn against each other. It is not the specific topics we talk about that are the problem, but how we turn the topics into a blame game to vilify opposing ideologies instead of acknowledging the harm they perpetuate.

Therefore, instead of working together to close this divide and find compromises that benefit all citizens, we widen this divide by convincing ourselves that another group of people dislikes us. This divide eventually turns from intangible speech to tangible violence.

Our democracy is at risk because we are plagued with an inability to communicate with one another, which divides our country and weaponizes our constitutional rights.

— Addis Belay

The attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 is an example of the weaponization of freedom of speech. Leading up to the riots, former President Donald Trump claimed a rigged election to his followers and helped them develop the idea to storm the capitol. By weaponizing the amount of people who would follow him, former President Trump threatened all those working inside of the Capitol.

The conservative community is known for having less accepting ideas across all fields from race, sexual orientation, and gender. As they have become more vocal in recent years, so has their hate for many communities. Rioters dressed in Proud Boy shirts and neo-Nazi hoodies and proudly waving confederate flags turned rude comments contained to social media into a violent display against multiple minorities.

A democracy can promote trustworthiness and respect — or it can descend into outrageous propaganda, pervasive cynicism and virulent partisanship. Allowing this type of speech to dominate weakens our nation and turns us against each other. The way in which we speak in the political sphere has been shadowed by hate, causing people to lose hope in our politicians.

Instead of using democracy to build off of our mistakes, we’re using it to foster distrust. On Jan. 6, not only was our Capitol under siege, but our nation was too. It was clear as we watched our own people, blinded with hate, destroy our home. We are our own worst enemy.

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