As new year starts on restless note, it’s time to take stock

In times that, admittedly, have been the most divisive many of us can remember, it would be safe to say most of us have had high hopes that 2021 would turn out to be a more peaceful, productive, pleasant year than the one that just ended.
We’re not off to a good start, but the good news is we’re only two weeks in; there’s still time to make a turn.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit there are a host of issues that must be addressed, society-wide and maybe personally. The list is long, with a lot of overlap, but here are a couple that are key.
Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to make the metrics governing whether schools can operate advisory, rather than mandatory, is a good way to start a new year, not only for state officials but for the people they serve.
How effective the “freeze” imposed some two months ago or other largely unilateral edicts from Salem have been in actually slowing the spread of the coronavirus is unclear, but what is clear is that they have had a lot of effects – on all of us.
We’ve heard from public officials about the rise in domestic violence rates; from teachers and coaches about students with vacant stares, who find it difficult to accept anyone’s word for anything anymore; we’ve seen people strictly observe the mask mandates and the 6-foot rule, who’ve ended up getting this nasty bug; we’ve wondered what the long-term effects will be on 2-year-olds who rarely see a stranger in public whose facial features are not mostly obscured by a band of cloth.
We’ve seen gyms closed. We can’t go watch a movie because the Kuhn is closed. At the only restaurants where we don’t have to sit in a long line of vehicles, waiting for take-out service, we sit on a cold patio, hopefully under a canopy with a heater, to dine out. Religious services are more sparsely attended than normal, only by those who feel safe enough, or spiritually starved enough, to risk infection by COVID. Christmas was muted for many of us.
Whether all of this, orchestrated by state officials, has been worth the collateral damage is a good question. We may never know for sure, and certainly this will be debated for years. Twenty-twenty vision, as we look back, may be clearer than seat-of-the-pants judgment calls, but there are a lot of variables – and a lot of opinion – mixed into this.
It makes sense to allow officials who know their local culture and population, make decisions on what’s right for their people.
Making management of the coronavirus challenge a local decision is a step in the right direction, morally and economically.
A second issue is the societal turmoil we’re seeing and feeling. It really goes without saying that civil unrest is another challenge facing Americans today.
Having witnessed excesses, bold-faced abuses of civil liberties from both ends of the political spectrum in recent months, we wonder how far this can go.
Unfortunately, the fundamental tenets that should be driving our government and our people are lying in our dust as Americans storm forward in a flood of raw emotion and, increasingly, adherence to personality over principle.
Amid the justifiable outrage over what happened at our nation’s capitol, we need to remember a number of things.
First of all, we need to define terms carefully. Hyperbole flows easily in the wake of what was undeniably a terrible day in U.S. history. But politicians, in particular, are quick to jump on an opportunity to ride the wave of public outrage.
Second, our nation is increasingly losing sight of basic constitutional principles, as we more and more replace them with personality and emotion.
Donald Trump has fostered a personality cult, monopolizing national attention – on himself.
We all need to remember that the foundation of our nation is constitutional principles – not personality. When leadership is based on personality without the constraints of the structure provided by our constitution and laws, the end result will be a dictator, a king – or queen – exactly what our country’s founders were trying to avoid. It will be all about an individual.
We may be subject to that in the areas of sports and entertainment, but it’s not a good idea if we want to keep what we have in government, imperfect though it sometimes can be. Many alternatives will be worse.
Third, social media have contributed to this to an extent that they and many of their users either don’t realize or don’t want to admit.
The problem is, while social media do good things in our society, there’s no question they played a role in fomenting that riot at the Capitol.
But the uncomfortable question is where to draw the line on free speech.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the silencing of Trump by social media giants a “problematic” breach of the “fundamental right to free speech.”
She gets it.
Free speech is a delicate thing, as, is becoming increasingly obvious, are all the liberties we have enjoyed in our nation.
There’s always a temptation, certainly for those in power, to dial things back, to put strictures on media that have carried unpopular or problematic messages.
But the media – the technology itself – are not at fault. The actors are people. And the delicate balance is to maintain the principles and the liberties that have made our country what it is in the face of those – regardless of which end of the political spectrum they represent – who may abuse them to accomplish their own purposes. They put us all at risk.