We hear the phrase “That is not what America is about,” after some tragedy or particularly egregious display of behavior. What does that really mean?

I believe it refers to what America should be but often is not. Regardless of political or other beliefs, there are many fine, upstanding people in our country. There are also the cruel, bigoted, fraudulent and greedy.

Journalism, the judiciary, the FBI, the legislature, the intelligence community, corporations, foreign leaders and foreign countries, NATO and other entities are aggressively attacked. There is constant, measurable dishonesty. That is not what America should be about.

We must defend against all types of aggression — but not be fomenting aggression, dissension and division ourselves.

Fear and anger are used as political weapons. It has caused destruction between friends and families, tearing them apart. The chaotic, negative atmosphere has had a seriously distressing and depressing effect. We are in a swirl of confusion and turmoil, like being thrown into a war. Reason, compassion and understanding get lost.

We want to think that people have common decency, compassion, honesty, charity and integrity. We teach our children these values. These are not only American values. They are universal.

Some point to religions as a basis for exemplary behavior. What we we see in our embattled political climate is opposite of what is taught in religion. The idea that we should treat our neighbors as ourselves, and to assist those most truly in need is not encouraged politically.

What can be done?

The political divide seems to be hard and fast. Debate using facts and figures goes nowhere as staunch opponents hold fast to their tribal beliefs. Strident, manipulative opinions are offered. Much of that cannot be trusted and is used to seek and maintain power. Perhaps hope lies somewhere in the center where people are open to nuanced, civil discourse and behavior.

People can become educated in depth from a wide range of sources. Confirmation bias tends toward seeking only opinions that people already have. We need to seek facts, quotes, and behaviors that are discoverable and observable.

We have ways to combat injustice and inhumanity. We have constitutional rights to protest and petition our grievances. We can contact our elected representatives who are to represent the electorate, not their own interests and the interests of power and money. Our ultimate power is the vote. It is a precious right not to be wasted. The real strength is in numbers.

We can register and help register others to vote and have their voices heard. Tell them that their votes matter. Investigate and be in contact with those who seek to positively represent us, no matter what party.

We cannot allow shallow slogans or attacks or fear to determine our votes. If there is a candidate forum, attend one or more. Ask questions. Demand accountability. The people whom we will ultimately elect work for us, the real U.S.

The final day to register for the Aug. 28 primary election is July 30 at midnight. For the Nov. 6 general election, it is Oct. 8. Not only can you vote at the polls, you can vote by mail.

For any registration or voting questions, call the Pima County Recorder’s Office at 520-724-4330. They are quite helpful.

Paul McCreary grew up on a farm in Illinois, taught in the Detroit area for 29 years and retired in 1995. He now lives in Green Valley.