Calls for unity are the new 'thoughts and prayers'

All these calls for unity coming from people in power in the face of one of the most divisive events in American history are sounding a lot like "thoughts and prayers," and feel just as hollow.

If you have ever scrolled through a Twitter feed or listened to just about any politician make a statement following one tragedy or another, you have heard the ambiguous "thoughts and prayers" being sent out to hurricane victims, cancer patients and communities mourning the loss of a son alike. While a nice enough sentiment, those recipients of well-meaning prayers and kind thoughts would likely benefit more from water donations, funding for medical bills and substantial political action to prevent another senseless loss.

Similarly futile and vague, in recent days calls for unity have dominated the airwaves. What does that even mean? Is it just a pretty, neutral statement or can calling for unity be backed up by action?

Public figures seemed to be especially inclined to unifying statements following the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. LMU’s own President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D., managed to offer a call to unity and thoughts and prayers in his statement:

"We pray for national unity, an end to violence, & reaffirm our common humanity. As educators in the Jesuit & Marymount traditions, we reconcile our differences with courage & mutual respect. I have faith in our shared democratic values and believe peace & justice will prevail."

This is a statement many would agree with, and there is no fault in the sentiment behind it. But there is this lingering feeling of, "OK, and?" after reading. It feels as though the images of Confederate flags in the Capitol and journalists being thrown down the stairs leading to the seat of our democratic republic just received a glossy band-aid that covers only the corner of a particularly nasty gut wound. Where is the call to action? Or the support for student organizers and commitment of aid to those doing the persistent work toward peace and justice? Statements such as this one and ones put out by figures across the country are good, but ultimately feel empty and even dismissive.

The riot at the Capitol was not a playground disagreement to be solved by both sides apologizing, but a violently radical sect of the American people harboring and acting on hateful views of their fellow Americans as seen in "Camp Auschwitz" shirts, the anti-Black rhetoric and brutal attacks on journalists recorded in the Capitol mob. "Thin blue line" flags were held aloft as a Capitol police officer was beaten to death. Elected officials were hunted in their place of work. A tragedy and outrage such as this is not one that any American should be expected to quickly move past just because a few politicians and people in power said doing so was the only way forward. These words are not good enough. To call for unity while the Capitol building's broken windows are barely boarded up and American citizens are struggling still to even put words to one of the most staggeringly divisive occurrences in our country's history is beyond dismissive of the trauma imparted. There can be no unity while wounds are still fresh and justice has not been served.

President Joe Biden, who ran his campaign on calls for unity and claims of being a president for all Americans, acknowledged this disenchantment many feel towards these calls in his inaugural address:

"I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know the forces that divide us are deep and very real.”

However, Biden went on to make his grand call, which, maybe more than thoughts and prayers, does have action behind it — the new president used the power of his office to make 17 executive orders in the hours following this address:

“History, faith and reason show the way of unity … without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward."

As Biden said, only speaking of unity rings with the same empty notes as your generic "thoughts and prayers." Yet, when acting on unity, the result has the power to be altogether different. It can feel like hope. It can feel like real, substantial change.

This is the opinion of Kacie Thielmann, a sophomore journalism and political science double major from San Jose, California. Tweet comments @LALoyolan.

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