As Ronald Reagan said back in the 1980s regarding then-pending legislation: “We don’t have enemies, we have opponents.” That is not naive, that was Reagan’s take on the game of politics. He could do political battle with the Speaker of the House during the day, then enjoy a drink together after work.

Too often these days some are eager to demonize their opponents, casting them as enemies rather than rivals. More than ever it is important for politicans and government officials at every level to help lower the heated rhetoric across the board. It is difficult to reach a mutual understanding when we are poised on the precipice with no room to spare.

Those who advocate for face masks during a pandemic are not our enemies. Governments that impose requirements for social distancing and mask wearing are doing their duty of protecting the people. Isn’t that what we want from our government?

When prodded, most Americans would say the number one job of government is to protect its citizens. 

People want the federal government to keep them safe from foreign attacks either by a state or a terrorist organization. The people want government to keep them safe, or rescue them, from the ravages of a natural disaster. Closer to home, the people want to be sure their children will be safe in school. The call for School Resource Officers (SRO) to be pulled from duty is an issue that engenders anger from all sides. 

It is natural to not want to listen to enemies, but we need to hear the views of our opponents. Policies can change with thoughtful exchanges in moderate tones. That doesn’t mean tamping down one’s passion about an issue, it means opening a dialogue, discussing and arrive at a solution that is reasonable for all.

It is human nature to seek change through anger. People who have been marginalized have few options than to express their views loudly. It took many years of protests (and yes, sometimes, riots) to move from the Jim Crow era to the civil rights era. Many feel we have not moved far enough to become a society that is equal for all. 

Two equality events have been held in Keizer in recent weeks: the Unity BBQ hosted by Willow Lake Golf Center and the People of Color rally held last weekend. Both rallies featured remarks by people affected by racism in their lives and others who are committed to changing society to be fair and equal for everyone. There were no angry words spoken, no punches thrown. The events were gatherings of people who want to peacefully affect change.

People want similar things from life: family, freedom, shelter and food. What each of those look like is unique for each person. Everyone wants to be respected and have dignity. Respect and dignity are not commodities, they are the traits that build our own character.

Face masks, SROs, gun rights and many other issues are important. But sacrificing all sense of community isn’t a path forward either. Just because we disagree doesn’t mean we are enemies, it means we are opponents. There’s a big difference.

(Lyndon Zaitz is publisher of the Keizertimes.)