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Ruth Bass: High time for Congress to stand up, get moving

RICHMOND — We need some people to stand up. And we need others to sit down. Standing up means talking. Sitting down means shutting up, at least for a minute. Neither state has to be permanent, but the country desperately needs some reversals — especially in the face of so many who are just lying down, silent.

This is about Congress, the House and the Senate. Republican Mitt Romney struggled to his feet recently to indicate he’d like some election reform. Perhaps his move will motivate others who seem to be more worried about holding onto their seats than standing up for the country. Perhaps some of the Democrats and Republicans who are right now working in pairs on legislation, even as their colleagues create dissension and dam up progress, will speak louder.

Most notably among those who are balancing themselves nicely in the face of party scorn are Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney, who have been vertical for quite some time now. Very publicly, he speaking in even tones and she very sharply, they have separated themselves from Republican nonsense about the January 6th insurrection and who was elected president. They’ve aligned themselves with support of the Constitution and preservation of American democracy.

On the other side of the aisle in the Senate, contrarian Joe Manchin needs to sit down and, if he’s bent on being in charge of something, should offer a chair to his equally unbendable colleague, Krysten Sinema. They are Democrats who have succeeded in blocking Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation, which actually seats them right beside Sen. Mitch McConnell — he announced long ago that his goal was to stonewall any Biden proposals.

The so-called Progressive Caucus should ease back in a lounge chair as well. When that group held the infrastructure legislation hostage for months, insisting it and the BBB bill be passed in tandem, the momentum of a new presidency was seriously damaged. Their stance did bring some compromises, including that the more conservative Democrats lowered the cost of the BBB, but time was lost. The public saw climate, child care, family leave, etc. remaining in limbo. Progress was reduced to an in-house wrangle.

Congress seems to have painted itself into a corner of conflict, and it was interesting to hear a brief interview with author and investigative journalist Amanda Ripley this past weekend on that very problem. Her book, “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” seems apropos around the planet right now, from Washington, D.C., to the terrifying Russian-Ukraine situation.

Because she was appearing on a media analysis show, she singled out journalists as her examples. Journalists, she said, tend to “amplify entrepreneurs of conflict.” She pointed out that some media outlets “thrive” on it. And she suggested that journalists seek ways to “amplify positive people.” This is more than the often-heard complaint that newspapers only print bad news, whether it be car crashes or murder. She pointed to the nationwide coverage of school boards that are trying to ban books and change the teaching of history and wondered how many of these boards exist.

To counter the negative impact of those stories, she suggested that in many communities, no one is banning books or rewriting history — and no one’s writing about them. Indeed, it would be enlightening to hear more from those towns and cities and to learn, quite probably, that they are in the majority.

“Democracy is under assault,” Ripley said Sunday. “We need to interrupt that now ... need to de-normalize violence.” That apparently includes the violence of insurrection and the violence of words. And she made clear that the role of journalism is a major part of the picture.

The inability to resolve conflict, whether it involves Joe Manchin’s stance or that of a parent at a school board in Tennessee, creates a wall that needs to be breached. We need the reasonable to stand up, the obdurate to sit down. The silent to speak. It’s to be hoped that they have the guts to do it.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is www.ruthbass.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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