This editorial originally appeared in the Tri-City Herald:
When the nation’s former Secretary of Defense warns that internal divisiveness is a greater danger to American society than any threat from foreign forces, everyone should take heed.
Richland native James Mattis is speaking out with his new book, “Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead.” The book, due for release Sept. 3, is already getting national attention.
“We all know that we’re better than our current politics,” Mattis wrote in an essay about the book for the Wall Street Journal.
“We are dividing into hostile tribes cheering against each other, fueled by emotion and a mutual disdain that jeopardizes our future, instead of rediscovering our common ground and finding solutions,” he wrote.
“All Americans need to recognize that our democracy is an experiment — and one that can be reversed,” he said, adding, “Tribalism must not be allowed to destroy our experiment.”
Mattis’ words are exactly what Americans need to hear right now.
While some say his book is about President Donald Trump, Mattis is reportedly careful on the topic of the country’s chief executive and allows readers to come to their own conclusions.
Regardless, there is no question our country is polarized, and it does not help that federal politicians — on both sides of the aisle — often appear more interested in posturing than getting something accomplished.
Social media certainly exacerbates the vitriol.
People find it too easy to surround themselves only with messages they want to hear, rather than giving any kind of consideration to “the other side.”
And making hurtful comments comes too easy for too many people who hide behind their screens and keyboards.
It isn’t healthy, and dismissing people simply because they don’t agree with you politically breeds contempt and frustration. Ultimately, such strong emotions can shut down civil discourse.
Just look at what happened the week of Aug. 29. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife had planned a series of public meetings around the state, including in Pasco and Selah, to discuss management of Washington state’s gray wolf packs.
But the agency canceled all of the sessions for public safety reasons. Fearing violence from people on both sides of the issue, state officials decided not to risk potentially disruptive and dangerous confrontations at the meetings intended to gather comments.
Instead, the state agency will take written comments until Nov. 1 and schedule some online forums where public comments can be taken.
This is disheartening.
Public hearings are a principal mechanism for gauging public sentiment on controversial topics. Government leaders rely on comments from these open session to help guide decisions.
These particular meetings were set to discuss how the state will manage the wolf population when it has grown to the point that the animals are no longer considered endangered by state and federal standards.
Most of the wolf packs are found in Eastern Washington, in the top and bottom corners of the state. Ranchers have reported problems with the wolves preying on cattle and state officials this summer gave the OK to shoot wolves killing livestock.
Those who want the wolves protected reportedly made threats against wildlife agency staff and ranchers, and then counter-threats were also made.
“We got to a point where the department could simply not assure the safety of the public or the staff,” Steve Pozzanghera, eastern region director for Fish and Wildlife, told the Spokesman-Review.
Tools like public hearings are important for democracy, and we need to be vigilant and protect them from hate and violence.
We hope Mattis’ words of caution about divisiveness make a difference.