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Local View: The 116th Congress can return us to more humane values

The greatest challenge for the 116th Congress, which convened this month, will be whether it has the courage, the will, and the heart to give up its unproductive, bipartisan tribalism and to work instead with compassion and empathy for the good of this nation and its people.

In his book, "Enlightenment Now," Steven Pinker wrote of the tremendous progress mankind has made in the last 100 years in life, health, sustenance, equality, the environment, peace, safety, and more. He ended his book with three chapters on science, reason, and humanism. Progress is made when these three are in harmony.

Simon Baron Cohen concluded in his book, "The Science of Evil," that those individuals who commit evil acts against humanity do so because they lack empathy. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in David W. Blight's book, "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom." In an NPR interview, Blight said that in February 1866, 12 black men met with President Andrew Johnson. President Johnson lectured them for an hour, "blaming black people for the war. He told them they should really colonize themselves outside of the country; they should really leave, that political rights, especially the right to vote, (were) just never really going to be possible. And when Douglass tried at times to interrupt or interject, Johnson would tell him to be quiet and just listen."

In response, orator Frederick Douglass wrote a speech in which he said, "Our Constitution and our laws are all well and good when a good man is president, but what do we do with our laws and our Constitution when a bad man is president?" Douglas, of course, was thinking of Presidents Johnson and Abraham Lincoln.

Unlike our sometimes cold and impersonal government, everyday children and adults do simple but touching acts of kindness. An Arizona man found a balloon with a young Mexican child's Christmas list and decided to find her and give her and her sister all their wishes. A very young and poor elementary student removed all the marshmallow figures, the best part, from her Lucky Charms cereal and carefully wrapped them up for her teacher as a Christmas gift. A 7-year-old found a way to donate 700 jars of jelly to a food shelter that only had peanut butter because you need jelly to make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. A bus driver bought breakfast for 50 kids during an ice storm. Firefighters built bikes for kids in need. A senator pledged to donate her daily salary to charity for every day the government is shut down.

It should be noted that when Republicans forced President Donald Trump to change his policy on separating children from parents at the southern border, a feeling of relief spread across the country.

President George H.W. Bush said, "America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principles. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world."

It is up to the 116th Congress to recommit us to fight tyranny in all forms, to stop the slaughter of innocent people, to uplift the oppressed, and to care for the needy. We do this not because we are weak; we do this because we are strong and because of our humanity.

In the final analysis, humanism is not fool's gold; it's pure gold.

F. Joseph Giesen of Duluth worked 41 years in education and is a longtime advocate for equal rights.

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