Commentary

Peace on Earth and goodwill to men? Only if the hearts of justice persist against the forces of hate

December 20, 2022 4:35 am

A white dove of peace illustration photo by Getty Images.

I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old, familiar carols play; and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words, transformed into a beloved Christmas carol, are almost quaint today. Reminiscent of a time when the wistful sentiments were within the bounds of possibility. 

But the glad tidings penned by the 19th century poet feel fanciful and feigned in 2022. Cynicism runs deep. Hostility precludes humanity. We live in a world where life is cheap, suffering is savage, and conflict eternal. 

From Ukraine to Yemen there is wholesale massacre of civilians, forcible displacement of millions, and countless children, who pay war’s heaviest price, on the brink of starvation. There is no peace where missiles rain death on maternity patients, sadistic soldiers leave gruesome calling cards of summary executions, and viciousness inspired by evil is unrelenting.

The United Nations has warned that peace is more under threat around the globe today than it has been since World War II. So how to reconcile that bleak reality with the forced exaltations of the season? Sometimes, on dark December nights punctuated with festive lights and Christmas songs on a loop, I struggle to square the hyped merriness with the hopelessness of bad news that bombards us from thousands of miles away to here at home. 

There seems to be no peace or goodwill in America these days.

Not when a sitting member of Congress suggests that the Jan. 6 rioters should have been more violent against their fellow Americans and insists she would have “won” the insurrection and “been armed” with more guns to forcibly overthrow the government she swore to uphold. And her audience cheered.

Not when the former president of the United States holds court with a white supremacist neo-Nazi and an avowed antisemite over a dinner arranged by an alt-right pedophilia advocate. And his party was overwhelmingly silent afterwards.

Not when MAGA performance artists promise to launch a full-scale agenda of toxic politics when they assumed control of the U.S. House. With rehearsed outrage the MAGA actors will accuse, investigate, impeach, and impugn instead of govern. And gutless GOP leaders will let it happen.

Not when political opponents are portrayed as mortal enemies by radicalized zealots out for blood. Ongoing death threats and intimidation campaigns besiege targeted MAGA villains (and their families) from top officeholders to county election workers. And the right-wing-echo chamber sneered at the brutal assault on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband.

Not when hate is on the rise in America and goons hiding behind masks and military garb show up with assault rifles on sidewalks to terrorize anyone they don’t like. And the thugs are empowered by elected MAGA extremists to normalize armed harassment and worse.

Not when marginalized communities, relentlessly demonized and degraded on the far right, are the frequent crime scenes of mass shootings. An LGBTQ nightclub. A grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood. A parade in a Jewish one. And the scapegoating of the most vulnerable to score political points or TV ratings invites more makeshift memorials.

Not when ubiquitous semi-automatic rifles with high capacity magazines — that can kill more people (including classrooms of children) more quickly without reloading — are the weapon of choice in some of the worst American massacres in recent memory. And there is no political will to ban the gun lobby’s best-selling arsenal or take aggressive steps to stop the insanity.

Not when the staggering scope of U.S. gun deaths from high profile episodes to nearly every day in homes, outside bars, and on the streets has become something we live with instead of fight. And anniversaries of preventable carnage in America come and go in a society that puts a higher premium on packing heat than reducing gun violence.

Sort of squelches the serenity of the season and its signature optimism. Is it even feasible to be hopeful anymore? Yes. I’m hopeful inflation will ease, the job market remains strong, price gouging will recede, and profit margins fall. 

I’m hopeful that two years on from the attempted coup to overturn a democratic election, which culminated in a barbarous attack on the Capitol, the traitors to our democracy will be held accountable. I’m hopeful that the Grinch/grifter Mar-a-Largo gets his due and indictment(s). 

I’m hopeful that tireless advocates for voting rights, abortion access, affordable housing, commonsense gun laws, immigration reform, aid to Ukraine, impoverished nations, climate change, and more, don’t give up. I’m hopeful for less chaos, a chance to bind wounds, bridge gaps, work across the aisle. (A longshot!) 

It helps to know that when Longfellow wrote his famous poem in 1863 he wasn’t feeling it either. He was bereft of hope. “And in despair I bow my head: ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said. ‘For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.’” But he refused to concede all was lost.

And he squared a heavy heart with enduring belief. “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth goodwill to men.’” So roll up your sleeves. Resolve to make what seems far-fetched less so. And, like the great American poet, keep the faith.

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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

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