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The population of our country is more than 320 million. There are more than 390 million guns.

Don’t we grow tired of kneeling at the graves of the murdered? Don’t we see the thick, growing cloud that covers our country and now the world? Don’t we feel the rain of tears that soak our souls?

Do we see the lightning strikes of hate, fear, shouting crowds calling for more, and the thunder of guns firing and the cries of the dying and wounded innocents?

Countries are arrayed against us as we destroy cherished values and shrug at the strident voice of the demagogue.

Hate and anger fueling hellfire. Fear of a knock on the door by the demagogue’s jackbooted army formed to find us if we have run from other killing fields.

Isn’t it time to say enough? Isn’t it time to call out the so-called leadership we have chosen and demand an end to this babbling to bases that shriek their twisted desire for lions to eat others in an arena of disagreement?

There is risk here. A risk of losing friends and family in the basement of discarded values. A risk of harsh criticism from the crowd. I’ll swallow that bitterness.

Over the years of writing guest commentaries for this newspaper I have tried to stay moderate and reasonable, regardless of the issue. I know there are only a few who care about what I have to say. But too many sleepless nights compel me to say it. I’ll say it to my friends, my golf buddies my lunch pals and hope for something better than rejection and ridicule.

George Washington was called the father of our country. He had many flaws, but not one of those flaws damaged the flow of virtue that ran above the rattling of our founding. It’s no coincidence that the word “father” was used. A father can inoculate his children with values. He can lead them to good things.

Thus, the highest office in our political world has a responsibility to lead in that way. His or her personal behavior as well as the strength to hold to the rules of our Constitution are critical. A president can calm social storms before they erupt into destructive episodes. He can make bridges internally and externally to allies and avoid conflicts.

But what have we now? Rhetoric that demands the worst in us. A shouting, hissing repetition of those demands. Freedom of speech does not allow for shouting fire in a crowded theater when there is none. It does not allow for hate speech. Decent folks don’t demand exorcism of those who are not of our color, not of our faith, not of our creed. All of us are made of the same stuff.

Have you noticed that the ad-lib rhetoric is natural and straight-forward when it spews evil? But when called upon for sympathy and outrage at violent acts, a speech writer’s rhetoric must be read from a teleprompter.

George Washington would have cringed. I suspect that many readers of this commentary also do that. “Love thy neighbor” is a good idea. It forecloses an idea that some are different from others, a condition certain folks believe must be fixed by guns and harsh words. Are you fearful at a supermarket, a movie theater, a church? Do you feel sort of frozen in place, intimidated by the moral fracture of your community that foments fear and suspicion?

Let’s rise above this. Everyone is free to believe what they want, but not support it with violence.

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Lee Rosenberg is a Santa Ynez Valley resident.

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