Rep. Gregg Amore (D-Dist. 65, East Providence) and Rep. Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville)
Like most Americans we were shocked by the events of January 6, highlighting the delicate balance “keeping” our republic, as Benjamin Franklin forewarned. Yet as a history teacher and an officer of the court, having a deep appreciation for our nation’s history and our shared democratic values, while we were saddened by recent events, we also know this was not the first time extremists in America have resorted to mob rule as a means to express their frustration. How we respond to such events will shape the future of our country.
While it is true our nation was created out of an armed conflict brought on by the ruling authority’s inability to peacefully address the concerns of its people, the resulting republic, which nations around the world have tried to emulate, is balanced by the competing ideas of majority rules and minority rights. Critically, regardless of our politics, race, gender, religion, or ethnicity we all enjoy the same inalienable rights set forth in the Constitution.
Unfortunately many have come to believe that these rights are not to be shared; worse, that the Constitution is merely a zero sum game. They believe our nation should not be governed by a democratic process, civil discourse, and vigorous debate about ideas and policies, but by some fiat expressed by those true believers who can shout the loudest and create the most fear.
Lost in the justifiable outrage surrounding the events of January 6, the first time the nation’s capital was under siege since the British invaded in 1814, and which included the confederate flag being marched through the building as if the Union had lost the Civil War, was that in the days prior, there was an incident at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in which the building was defaced by extremists from the political left. The irony is not lost on us that in the same week Trump leaning nativists stormed the Capitol, extremists on the left vandalized a place originally established as a beacon of hope and safe haven from nativism for immigrants and ethnic minorities who were, at the time, the newest Americans.
It is critical the next generations of Americans understand their system of government, how elections are conducted, the essential system of checks and balances that was so perfectly crafted by the Founders, and how the American judicial system, at all levels, works. It is important that they understand their nation’s history and its founding documents so that false claims, misinterpretations and demagoguery can be repelled with facts, law and precedent. The market place of ideas should always be open but the public, as a whole, has a responsibility to be an informed consumer within that market. Our democracy is dependent on informed and engaged citizenship.
Once again this legislative session, we, a Democrat and a Republican, are sponsoring, along with many of our House colleagues, legislation that would require every graduating high school senior in Rhode Island to have completed a course in American Civics and Government. Democracy can only flourish if we have a populace that is able to debate their opponents in a civil manner and on the merits of the case at hand. We need to ensure that our students learn to think critically in these matters, with a solid foundation in American history and government. We need to ensure that they are able to discern for themselves information that is pertinent, rather than relying on those arguments based wholly on emotion that are readily available through social media and some media outlets. No less than the survival of our republic is in the balance.
Rep. Gregg Amore, a Democrat, represents District 65 and resides in East Providence. Rep. Brian C. Newberry, a Republican, represents District 48 and resides in North Smithfield.