Our state’s capital city, as Nebraskans know, is named for the 16th president, who said this on March 4, 1861:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.
“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
These honored words of Abraham Lincoln, uttered on the eve of an honest-to-goodness Civil War, should be burned ever deeper upon our hearts following what happened Wednesday in our nation’s capital city.
He gave his first inaugural address at the same U.S. Capitol that never once saw a Confederate battle flag brandished by interlopers before two days ago.
We refuse to dive into the rhetorical swamp into which fanatical national partisans of left and right — and we do mean both — have poured gallon after gallon of poison for at least the past 50 years.
But we plead with our fellow Americans, no matter where they live and no matter their beliefs or inner or outer characteristics, to use their words and actions to defeat the partisan demons of both major parties.
The alternative is what we saw Wednesday.
One of Nebraska’s most celebrated newspaper journalists, Harvey Newbranch, looked the alternative in the eye on Sept. 28, 1919, near his downtown Omaha office.
A mob had stormed the Douglas County Courthouse, set it afire, pulled a Black man named Will Brown out of a jail cell and lynched him to cheering crowds. They tried to do the same to Omaha’s white mayor.
Newbranch decried it all in a Sept. 30, 1919, Omaha World-Herald editorial, “Law and the Jungle,” that won a Pulitzer Prize.
In part, he said:
“There is the rule of the jungle in the world, and there is the rule of law.
“Under jungle rule no man’s life is safe, no man’s wife, no man’s mother, sisters, children, home, liberty, rights, property. ...
“Omaha Sunday was disgraced and humiliated by a monstrous object lesson of what jungle rule means. ...
“We have seen, as in a nightmare, its awful possibilities. We have learned how frail is the barrier which divides civilization from the primal jungle — and we have been given to see clearly what that barrier is.
“It is the law! It is the might of the law, wisely and fearlessly administered! It is respect for the obedience of the law on the part of the members of society!
“Where these fail, all things fail. When these are lost, all will be lost.”
We have seen far too much mob violence in America these past months. It should be obvious by now that the pattern of a protest literally run riot knows no partisanship.
All it takes is one or more fanatics to incite a crowd, be incited or both — no matter how many protesters exercise their constitutional rights peacefully from start to finish.
And incitement need not only be by one person in one moment. It can take place over decades, fueled by real or imagined slights and endless tit-for-tats by politicians and their handlers of both parties who put power and money before people.
It doesn’t matter who “did it” first, second or last. Everyone must stop. Now.
A North Platte resident captured the long view of all this in a Facebook post that caught our eye in Wednesday’s wake:
“Your ‘side’ is part of the problem. Both (sides) are comprised of imperfect humans who have made mistakes over the years contributing to where we are today. Neither is innocent. Neither is completely to blame. ...
“If you are posting/reposting how awful everyone on ‘the other side’ is, you are continuing to stir the pot of spreading division and hate.
“Let’s be better humans. Learn from each other. Try to understand each other. And get on our knees with each other to talk to the only perfect One who can grant forgiveness and heal this land.”
That requires heeding Lincoln’s “better angels,” whose existence we have repeatedly seen.
Let Wednesday be an ending to malignant, pointless division and a beginning of renewed dedication to forming that “more perfect Union” we say we seek.