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Who Will Be Today’s Paul Reveres?

Former Senator Jones points to history for a lesson on how to heal national divisions.

Former Democratic senator Doug Jones.  Photograph by Vicki Sanders

“One if by land, two if by sea—three if within?” Such is Doug Jones’s timely alteration to the historic signaling strategy used to alert colonial militias to the threat of advancing British troops. In discussing the state of democracy during the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy address on January 25, the former US Alabama senator called for three lanterns to be lit in every city and every town in America, a signal that the nation’s biggest threats are the divisions among us.

Jones, who is this semester’s Jerome Lyle Rappaport Distinguished Visiting Professor, began his community address by acknowledging the nation’s evolution into what he believes to be “the greatest country this planet has ever produced.” He explained that although we sit at the top of the ladder in terms of power and prestige, we need modern-day Paul Reveres to bring our country back together.

“Paul Revere led an accomplished life, but as our young nation evolved rapidly after shedding British control, his famous ride became more,” said Jones. “It became a symbol of collective pride. His commitment and bravery demonstrated a genuine patriotism forged by unwavering dedication to a common cause.”

“We’re dealing with a historic moment that requires a rallying cry, I believe, for American solidarity in the face of what would divide us—what is dividing us.”

Rappaport Visiting Professor Doug Jones

Jones related this moment in history to the division and animosity Americans are witnessing between the right and left sides of the political spectrum. “It seems that perhaps more than any time since the Civil War, the greatest threat to the ideas that created this country is coming from within, from the very deep divisions we see in Americans that are only growing deeper,” said Jones. “We’re dealing with a historic moment that requires a rallying cry, I believe, for American solidarity in the face of what would divide us—what is dividing us.”

Highlighting a foundational element of the divisions that we are seeing, Jones instructed the audience to follow the money. “People get rich off stoking the divisions that we have in this country,” Jones said. “Whether it is on radio, online or in mainstream media, people are making money by stoking the divisions.”

This has led to conservatives being fearful of a cancel culture, Jones noted, and why we see “a country where free speech and religious liberty is curtailed, as many on the left actually espouse.”

In quoting a recent New York Times guest essay by Jonathan Rauch and Peter Wehner, Jones said that “while fears about the left are well-grounded, [those fears] have blinded many conservatives to the greater danger posed today by the right, which is a threat to our constitutional order, and therefore a threat to conservatism itself. Make no mistake, the threat to democracy coming from the right is more immediate and more dangerous, in so many ways.”

Examples included former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the most recent election by illegitimate means as well as election rule-change proposals that would give authority to partisan certifiers and make it especially difficult for certain people to vote.

“Rather than spurning Mr. Trump and the efforts, the Republican party of today has embraced it,” said Jones. “Around the country, respective Republican candidates are running on the same ‘stop the steal’ lies and conspiracy theories that failed in court, rather than simply standing for democracy.” These are not people who set out to be revolutionaries, he argued. They are concerned about this country because the left has created that concern, so the problem is two-fold.”

He added, “Ours is a democracy where every person of every hue has equal value, and we do not bow to a monarch, or cower before would-be authoritarians. Historically we’ve always eventually moved ahead as one, however fraught the advance, however fragile the unity.”

The best way forward, according to Jones, is through dialogues instead of monologues, through empowering modern-day Paul Reveres and voices from the middle who are willing and able to bring people together to find common ground.

“Our democracy is threatened today, but we will not save it by purging people we don’t agree with,” said Jones. “Democracy only works if we find ways to compromise when we disagree in order to share our country and enjoy its promise.”

He asked, “So who will be today’s Paul Reveres?”

His answer: “The modern-day silversmith who heeds the call has to be the barbers, the stylists, the doctors and nurses, lawyers and accountants, mechanics and seamstresses, students, teachers, faith leaders, agnostics, and moms and dads. That’s who needs to be the Paul Reveres of the day.”

Read about Jones’s recent appointment to assist in the upcoming SCOTUS confirmation here

Watch the full community address below.