Mutual respect, honesty and decency must guide our public words and deeds

Let’s toss aside political affiliations for a moment and look at the messages we’ve recently seen and heard from elected leaders.

Let’s consider the tone and the energy and the audience. And, yes, let’s consider the actual words, specifically the meaning behind them. 

The year 2021 is barely three weeks old, but our nation and our commonwealth have already seen and heard such starkly different brands of messaging. 

Domestic terrorism and the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were fueled in large part by divisive rhetoric, much of it originated and echoed by elected officials here in Pennsylvania. 

Former President Donald Trump has been impeached a second time because of his active participation in spreading lies about the 2020 election -- both before and after Election Day. Notably, he demonstrated his unwillingness to publicly admit defeat and continued espousing the lies that ultimately culminated in five deaths directly related to the Jan. 6 events. 

Exactly two weeks later, a new administration was sworn into office, as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris took the oath in a subdued celebration at the besieged U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. The nation was told of the devastating milepost of more than 400,000 Americans dead because of COVID-19 just days earlier. 

From the stage, though, the speakers and performers – including President Biden and youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman – boosted hopefulness, togetherness and unity to a citizenry badly in need of those words. 

If you watched with an optimistic mind and open heart, it was impossible to avoid tears of joy, exhales of relief. 

Sadly, the moments of togetherness existed only briefly -- and, for some, perhaps not at all -- as disruption, cruelty and lawlessness again escalated. 

On the day after the Montgomery County Democratic Committee headquarters in Norristown was shot up by a gunman – where, fortunately, nobody was injured – we read state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s tirade posted on his official Facebook page. He called on “patriots” to unite together to “defeat these leftists who have gained power through corruption.” These are frightening words from a veteran politician, a senior member who chairs the highly important House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee. 

Later that same day, state Rep. Jeffrey Pyle, chairman of the House Liquor Control Committee, on his personal Facebook page, posted a disgusting transphobic joke about our capable, dedicated and hard-working secretary of Health, Dr. Rachel Levine. This came in response to Dr. Levine being selected by President Biden as his nominee for assistant secretary of health, an honor not just for Dr. Levine but for our entire state. 

I wonder, to whom are these men directing their rage and their hateful, hurtful so-called jokes? How and why has it gotten to this point where these types of words -- this vengeful and incendiary type of messaging -- is becoming more common?

The 2020 presidential election inspired more voters than ever before, arguably because of the stark difference between the presidential candidates. The former president is a polarizing figure who divided our country. Across this nation, a majority of voters chose change rather than a continuation of polarization.

In Pennsylvania, the gerrymandered PA House and PA Senate districts did not see any big shifts as the majority party maintained its control of the General Assembly while two statewide offices were flipped from Democratic to Republican.

Elected officials and the courts did not find widespread credible instances of fraud and certified the election as free and fair. And here we are: Truth matters. Words matter. Votes matter.

Politics has never been about universal agreement. This is a world for debate, for contrasting opinions, even for different interpretations of data and figures. 

But it should not be a home for hate, for lies and disinformation, for propaganda. If we are to work together for the betterment of our commonwealth and our nation, a mutual respect, honesty and decency must guide us.