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As our country confronts serious threats, some Kansans want to laugh them off

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As our country confronts serious threats, some Kansans want to laugh them off

Sep 18, 2023 | 4:33 am ET
By Clay Wirestone
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As our nation confronts serious threats, some Kansans want to laugh them off
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An original copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed the evening of July 4, 1776, is seen at the exhibition "Democracy Plaza" at Rockefeller Center in New York City. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As long as news stories and columns have appeared online with a way for readers to make their reactions known, one piece of advice to authors persists.

Don’t read the comments.

Yet I can’t help but do so when it comes to my work, simply because I’m curious to know what people think. My recent piece about the Eisenhower Foundation’s refusal to put its name on a statement from other presidential foundations and centers elicited reactions that I simply must write about now. Several readers suggested the statement was a piece of political theater and that the Eisenhower organization was right to refuse to play along.

Anyone who follows Kansas Reflector on social media platforms has seen it before. When I write about big, serious challenges we face in Kansas and across the nation, an outspoken few deride the premise. Be it democracy, climate change, reproductive rights or public health, someone will pop up to mock the topic.

Why do silly liberals get so worked up about these silly subjects? (The same commenters will often follow with accusations that liberals are the real fascists, but never mind.)

I’ll tell you why.

This isn’t a game. This isn’t a joke. I care about the fate of our state and our country. If you prefer nihilism, go ahead, but understand you’re condemning the rest of us to a wrecked future.

In my earlier column on the joint statement from presidential foundations and centers, I quoted the concluding paragraph. I would now like to quote the first three paragraphs. Read them and tell me if they sound like political theater to you. Tell me if they sound like a cheap shot at Donald Trump to you.

Tell me if they sound like nonsense.

The unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, are principles that bind us together as Americans. They have enabled the United States to strive toward a more perfect union, even when we have not always lived up to those ideals.

As a diverse nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, democracy holds us together. We are a country rooted in the rule of law, where the protection of the rights of all people is paramount. At the same time, we live among our fellow citizens, underscoring the importance of compassion, tolerance, pluralism, and respect for others.

We, the undersigned, represent a wide range of views across a breadth of issues. We recognize that these views can exist peaceably side by side when rooted in the principles of democracy. Debate and disagreement are central features in a healthy democracy. Civility and respect in political discourse, whether in an election year or otherwise, are essential.

I’m not here to tell you who to vote for in 2024. Any single person’s vote makes little difference to me, given that I’m not running for office or working for a political party.

But for goodness’ sake, don’t treat our current political crises like schoolyard roughhousing. We’re not sitting in a classroom where the most perfectly timed wisecrack earns you the approbation of classmates. We live in a representative democracy facing an unparalleled array of threats. Treat this current situation with the intellectual rigor it deserves.

Most of you, I know from these same comments and the emails I receive, do. A handful of others, well, you would rather vent a wet fart sound and giggle.

In the words of Succession’s Logan Roy, “You are not serious people.”

I love Kansas. I love the United States of America. I love my family, my friends and support all of those who have faced unjust persecution. We have often fallen short, yes, but we have also made life better for so many people through the slow, grinding work of advocacy and legislation. We can make things better if we all work together.

If you laugh at that idea, if you chortle at that concept, perhaps you don’t love America the way you claim.

You will certainly never make it great again.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.