WOODY BASSETT: Rays of sunshine

“Buck stops” with people of the nation

It's a long-standing practice for a departing president to pen a letter to his successor, leaving it in the top drawer of the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. Here's part of what President Obama wrote in the note he left for Donald Trump: "We are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions -- like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties -- that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it's up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them."

President Trump failed the American people by weakening our institutions and damaging our still relatively young and fragile democratic republic. It's undeniable his tumultuous presidency has left the country dangerously divided and in trouble on multiple fronts. He left office with America in disarray. But even though Trump bent the instruments of our democracy, he didn't break them. They are still there to help us dig out of the mess we are in if we use them properly.

It's difficult to fathom what happened on Jan. 6 at the United States Capitol. Trump's tiresome four-year reality show became all-too real that day. His lies, narcissistic behavior and authoritarian tendencies incited and unleashed a mob of extremists to attack the seat of our government and strike at the heart of our democracy, while from the White House he watched approvingly as the seditious frenzy played out on television.

At last, Trump had gone too far, even for many who had enabled him for so long. His day of reckoning had finally come. History won't be kind to him.

It's a shame it took a violent insurrection and a frontal assault on American democracy for many to realize how dangerous Trump was. A large slice of Trump's supporters were just as appalled by what happened as the rest of us. The thugs who broke into the Capitol and committed criminal acts must be identified and arrested. Throw the book at them. Throw it hard. They must pay the price for what they did. The same goes for those in positions of power who provoked or facilitated the insurrectionists. All who were complicit, including the former president, must be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The blame for how low we've sunk as a nation belongs primarily on Trump himself. If you don't get that now, then you never will. It's time for the rest of us to move on together and leave Trump permanently behind -- alone, and with no chance of ever regaining the reins of power.

We woke up this morning with a new president, a good and decent man. At least with a competent, experienced leader with the right temperament we have an opportunity to re-fortify our democracy before it's too late, temper the national anger and inflammatory rhetoric, halt the rampant chaos and dysfunction, and try to find enough common ground among the American people so we can make progress on meeting the nation's most pressing challenges. The country needs a collective shot in the arm and its citizens need vaccine shots in their own arms.

Extremism on both the left and right is wrecking our country. So is blind partisanship. Our politics are broken. Much of cable "news" has morphed into poisonous propaganda. Social media has become the main vehicle for spreading hateful lies, misinformation and groundless conspiracy theories. Endless online combat amounts to mutual destruction, ruining friendships and crippling our public discourse. Too many have forgotten how to honestly discuss serious issues without demonizing those who disagree.

It's essential to get back to a place where facts and evidence count when making declarations and decisions. Truth and words have to matter again, especially in leadership positions. Respect, civility and kindness toward others must be rekindled. The country desperately needs a period of calm moderation with both political parties moving closer to the middle in order to make compromise achievable again. Rather than mindlessly choosing a side, opt instead to choose problem-solving and a better future for everyone.

America is at a crucial juncture. To heal the nation's soul will require some soul-searching by many. We've become our own worst enemy and that has to stop. Neither "side" is winning -- we are all losing. We're better than this and it's urgent now that we prove it. The buck stops with the American people.

Maya Angelou often quoted this line from a country song: "Every storm runs out of rain." It's still raining in America but today a few rays of sunshine peaked through the clouds, bringing hope that the storm will soon pass and brighter days will return to the country we all love.

Woody Bassett is a lifelong Fayetteville resident and a local attorney. Email him at [email protected].

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