America needs elected leaders who will help us grab on to our ideals

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans are worried about the threat of political extremism and violence. The answer: Vote.

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Voters cast their ballots for the 2022 midterms at an early voting site at the Chicago Public Library Bucktown Branch, Monday, October 24, 2022.

Early voters at the Chicago Public Library branch in Bucktown.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

There’s no denying it: We are a nation in turmoil.

Newspaper headlines, TV broadcasts, radio reports, social media posts, a talk with the next-door neighbor, a chat with a work colleague — every one of these provides ample evidence that Americans are rightly concerned about our toxic climate of intolerance, division and extremism.

No wonder, then, that when a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll asked Americans to pick a single word to describe the state of the nation, common answers were words like “awful,” “poor,” “terrible,” “chaotic,” “disastrous,” and “messy.”

Much the same can be felt right here in Illinois, in Peoria, one of the locations that Sun-Times reporters visited for our Pulse of the Heartland series exploring voters’ concerns as the Nov. 8 election nears..

“It seems like there is no middle ground out there anymore,” Carrie Bryant told reporter Mitchell Armentrout. “Reasonable people have changed into unreasonable people. We have so many huge problems, but people would rather call each other names. It just makes your heart sink.”



Rampant incivility is a problem, of course. But many Americans are rightly anxious about something far worse: the looming threat of politically motivated violence.

Almost nine in 10 Americans — 88% — are concerned that the country could erupt like a volcano at any moment because of our stark divide, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll. Last month, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies warned of possible election-related violence, including after Election Day. Meanwhile, threats to election workers and members of Congress have soared in the past two years. All of this has been mostly fueled, of course, by the Big Lie, endlessly repeated even now, that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”

We can put a stop to all of this, or at least begin to do so, by voting on Nov. 8.

Find the candidates whom you believe will stand up for our country’s ideals of freedom, tolerance, justice and a democracy in which everyone participates. Then cast your ballot for them. Every voter has a part to play.

“No place” in America

Last Wednesday evening, President Joe Biden spoke to the nation to warn against political extremism and violence leading up to the midterms. He began by referencing the horrific attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by a right-wing Q-Anon conspiracist who broke into their home and was looking to kidnap and “kneecap” the speaker.

“We must — with one overwhelming, unified voice — speak as a country and say there is no place — no place — for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans,” Biden said. 

It is telling that earlier Wednesday, here in Illinois, a North Side man was charged with sending violent, sickening voicemail threats to Darren Bailey, the Republican candidate for governor. Also on Wednesday, an Aurora man and member of the right-wing Proud Boys pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, where he bragged that he’d “bonked 2 cops.”

Legitimate political disagreement and protest has become thuggery, plain and simple.

And it is a clear threat to democracy. So too is election-denying, authoritarianism, and an apparent yearning for some form of theocracy — an eye-opening 45% of Americans believe this should be a “Christian nation,” according to another Pew Research survey.

How can we boost our economy, curb violent crime, improve schools, provide health care, help our allies abroad when their own democracy is under siege, fix our immigration system, deal with climate change and contend with other problems if we cannot have informed debate and fair elections — without violence?

That’s what democracy is all about. And every elected official, at every level of government, plays a role in ensuring that our democracy remains functional. School board members, library trustees, county commissioners, judges, state senators, members of Congress — all of them play a role.

America needs elected leaders who will help this nation grab on tight to its ideals as we head toward the future. We cannot set our feet on an anti-democratic path, paved with bigotry, political violence and lies told over and over in the pursuit of power.

That’s why every pick on your ballot matters.

Early voting this year is higher than in past midterm elections, and that’s a good sign. Already in Illinois, nearly 952,000 early ballots have been cast; nationally, over 35,600,000.

America may not know the full election results on Nov. 8 as ballot-counting continues.

But as you’re waiting for the results, don’t find yourself regretting that you didn’t make time to cast your own ballot.

The time is now.

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