In recent weeks, the United States court system has demonstrated its ability to uphold the rule of law, even amid unprecedented political turmoil. Former President Donald Trump’s historic conviction on May 30 and Hunter Biden’s guilty verdict announced on June 11 are evidence that the judicial system is working to administer justice fairly and impartially — affirming that no one is above the law.

Our responses to these proceedings have the potential to create peace and promote the health of democracy — or compromise both. We can use our influence to build relationships and strengthen our communities or harm others and erode trust in our institutions, further damaging the state of our union.

These high-profile trials draw scrutiny and provoke impassioned reactions. Overly simplistic, narrow narratives are flooding our newsfeeds while the practice of productive debate in public discourse has been reduced to ad hominem attacks and demonizing those with differing views and opinions. But we all need to work to recognize the distinction between reasonable debate about topics such as legal precedents versus rhetoric that undermines faith in the justice system. And any accusations and threats of violence directed at jurors and other officials involved in these cases should be unacceptable to all.

Analysts from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue assert the dangers of distorted rhetoric and misleading narratives due to their “potential to serve as a catalyst for individual acts of violence” while continuing “to increase distrust in our democratic institutions.” As citizens, we cannot control the politicians and pundits, but we can exercise care in how we as individuals respond to the questions this historic moment raises.

A nation founded on freedom of speech and thought will always produce competing ideas; developing the ability to hold the tension of paradoxical perspectives is part of our reality as Americans. Our mutual responsibility is to remain aware of our own fallibility and respect others enough to try to understand what they believe and why their position is important to them. Additionally, living peacefully in a society means we need to be willing to preserve the sanctity of our democratic processes — elections, legislative, judicial — even when, or especially when, our desired outcome is not achieved.

Professor Hahrie Han observes, “Part of what we’ve lost in 21st-century America is a particular form of collective action that teaches people the commitments and capabilities of power-sharing that are necessary in pluralistic democracy.” She emphasizes the importance of connecting across differences, finding belonging and committing to further civic action.

Han explains, “People have to be willing to commit to sharing power with other people without knowing if their side is going to win. It’s a challenge that is only exacerbated in diverse and heterogeneous societies. And so when their side loses, people have to be willing to accept the results.”

Accepting the results, disappointing as they may be, is an integral part of upholding the rule of law and maintaining a well-ordered society. When partisan actors speak or behave in ways that undermine our collective commitment to these principles, they threaten the American experiment. To preserve our nation, we need to remember that our “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is instituted to secure the human rights of all people.

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Rachel Kleinfeld and Aaron Sobel suggest daily practices anyone can utilize to reverse our nation’s democratic decline: We can speak out when polarizing, hateful language is used within our own parties; we can learn to recognize and avoid spreading misinformation; and we can support reforms that help political moderates, to name a few.

Our inherent power to collectively shape a better future cannot be taken from us unless we abdicate our civic duties. Instead, we can come together to transcend the vitriolic rhetoric of any politician or public figure who seeks to manipulate and exploit us as pawns in their divisive agendas.

Mother Teresa perceptively taught: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” As we approach an increasingly contentious presidential election, may her words reverberate louder than the lies and help us see that we are inextricably bound to one another. By embracing the truth of our shared humanity, we can find a new resolve to serve the common good and emerge stronger as a nation.

Emma Petty Addams is the co-executive director of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. Tiffany Collard is an organizational leadership consultant and a peacebuilding practitioner at MWEG.

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