Let’s have a serious talk. I’m sure you are sitting down, so let’s settle in and just go for a ride. Last year was a bumpy ride for everyone. It was such a crunch on people’s souls whether you were on one side of an issue or another. Let’s talk about what it has done to people, from my perspective.

In early 2020, there was a weird virus in China. Then there were busloads of people being transported by people wearing full-body biohazard suits and more information about a deadly virus and reports of people getting deathly ill. We were all concerned.

At the exact same time, the Democratic Party in Congress was bringing articles of impeachment against former President Donald Trump. The tribalism was already on a pretty high note.

Then lockdowns sent everybody home. I continue to urge everyone to remember we all did that voluntarily, with the same information then that we have now a year later — the disease disproportionately impacted the elderly and those with underlying conditions we all know now as co-morbidities.

During that time, people lost their entire incomes. Some were able to get onto unemployment, but many small business owners were not. It was very stressful for different reasons for everyone, but watching the conversations online, people were getting anxious and demanding on a large scale.

The hope of “two weeks to flatten the curve” became an extended crisis that dramatically frayed nerves. I watched it as people became increasing dependent on social media and obvious (conscious or unconscious) withdrawals from community human interaction.

Just like when we interact as humans, we share some of our germs and our immune systems build up resistances, I watched as people’s mental and emotional health was also becoming less resistant to other people’s ideas. Tolerance was waning as health officials gave daily briefings on the status of the public health crisis.

In SLO County, there were rallies in support of constitutional rights — which are actually something you don’t need to rally for, because they are inalienable as written in both the U.S. and California constitutions. Your ability to work and engage in economy are not something the government has a right to impede. It begs the question then, how we got here but that is for another story. This story is about our community soul, and the discord was in part a consequence of the reality that constitutional rights were being threatened.

Some people in the community thought it was OK to demand people stop working, which sure, demand all you want it doesn’t make it a law. Other people were demanding to reopen. SLO County put together a plan in May. Governor Newsom proclaimed his plan was the only plan. It was all a mess. Messages from health officials, local officials, the governor’s office, the federal administration, officials from other states, and health experts — not to mention a cargo ship full of new conspiracy theories were disseminated — from around the world gave conflicting information that led to massive confusion. Meanwhile, the highly paranoid thought two things — the whole thing was a massive conspiracy hoax or that everyone who wasn’t wearing a mask was a “lethal weapon” going to kill people. Seriously, SLO County health officer Dr. Penny Borenstein used those words. They will not age well.

Add to the lockdowns a “summer of love” in which massive riots burned down cities, insurgents took over downtown Seattle, while people were still demanded to keep their businesses and churches closed. Complicating the situation was a polarizing president who acted more like a CEO than an elected official and a politicized health crisis during an election year. I don’t know about you, but it seemed that everything was being framed with a Trump-effect — how anything that happened was a result of Trump acting or failing to act. With a record voter turnout, it is obvious that Americans were called to action. Let’s just all be honest about one thing regarding the election — it was not normal. After an unprecedented year of chaos, we needed leadership. I’m just going to say that we didn’t get what we needed. Don’t hate me for saying Trump aggravated the post-election narrative. Don’t hate me for saying Joe Biden didn’t help. Don’t hate me for saying the people on social media, and mainstream media didn’t help either. Don’t hate me for saying I don’t know who is reading this right now, but we didn’t get any letters to the editor from you providing a calming and unifying voice.

I’m not claiming any innocence, but I’m not your leader either. I’m just a guy. I didn’t hear any great message from anyone. And, no, Biden wasn’t doing great either. It was just a void where we lacked a reality. It isn’t surprising, because it was just an extension of what had happened all year — just a bunch of people all saying different things and nothing unifying or coalescing.

What was interesting is that the mainstream media was pushing a certain line that Joe Biden was the president-elect, but that really wasn’t true until January 6, 2021 when the joint session of Congress met to count the electoral votes.

That is what I paid attention to. In the world filled with massively loud voices shouting conflicting stories and some altogether absurdities, there was actually something solid — the U.S. Constitution.

I actually appreciated how defiantly Trump fought against the election results. So many people were claiming he was damaging the Constitution, but I watched him test the Constitution. He and others pushed on our system with all the weight they could muster, with all the claims and lawsuits they could put together, and the media attacked, and I just watched. That is why I will always say — now and forever — that there is no president-elect until the electoral college votes are counted. There is rule of law, and it holds our leaders accountable when it is applied. It is still under attack, by the media, by bad actors in government, but it is what I believe in. Without it, we are vulnerable as a government but more importantly as a country.

That is what people are failing to do — learn what the government is and how it works. The people who claimed Joe Biden was president-elect before the counting of the electoral votes at the joint session of Congress were patently wrong, but they were just yelling at Trump supporters who were claiming the election was stolen. It was literally two groups of people without facts to back up their claims just yelling at each other.

That is not really the way forward for our society, but it is still happening.

The United States is not a democracy — it is a republic. People don’t really know that, and many don’t care to understand what it means, or don’t care that they are wrong when they call it a democracy. It’s not just uneducated people either. There is so much information, and such a long history of people being wrong or corrupt that it really makes it hard to untangle.

It’s not like the universities, mainstream media outlets, or elected officials don’t know the reality — the experts knew enough to explain why Joe Biden wasn’t the president-elect until Jan. 6, or that we are a republic and not a democracy, or that media outlets are not the official arbiters of election results. But nobody spoke up.

It would have helped. Trump wasn’t helping either, but there is a lot of blame to go around for what happened on Jan. 6, and if we don’t hold ourselves accountable at all levels, on both sides of the political spectrums, on both sides of the issues, on both sides of the power structures, we are inviting more severe problems.

I didn’t vote Trump into office. I sat that one out. When he was elected, I laughed. I laughed at the establishment Republicans who were obliterated by Trump, and I laughed at the establishment Democrats who just lost to Trump. It was comeuppance. It was the world created by corrupt politics and ignorance of what regular Americans actually cared about. It wasn’t racists or bigots or idiots. It was just people who didn’t want Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush. It was people who were tired of the garbage candidates our nation has produced.

I’m not laughing anymore. I was 37 then. I’m 42 now. I’m taking responsibility, not for your feelings or your social issues or your ideas or your fears, but for what kind of world our children will inherit when I’m 80.

I believe in the principles laid down by the authors of the Constitution, and every state that joined the United States since then has sworn to uphold it. If you are concerned about people like Trump, support the Constitution. If you are concerned about election integrity, support the Constitution. If you are concerned about enemies foreign and domestic, support the Constitution.

We are feeling the growing pains of a connected world in the age of information and the internet. Clashes of culture are pushing the limits of our local and national fabric. Foreign threats and influence can access kids as young as 13 years old on social media apps.

There is a lot more going on than most people realize, here and around the world. The world is not going to return to any form of normal that resembles anything from the past 40 years. It’s all new, and my personal opinion is that a desire for safety and security in a new tech-based wild west is pushing people into tribalistic teams hoping for that safety-in-numbers effect to kick in. I’m optimistic about the future, but a return to “normal” isn’t happening, and I’m not talking about COVID. Things are moving too fast, and while the Constitution is a bulletproof document, it is only relevant if elected officials actually support and defend it. Let’s not pretend Hillary Clinton didn’t claim Trump was an illegitimate president for four years, so bad leadership is not a partisan problem — it’s universal. And we know from recent history that the two parties are not raising the leaders of tomorrow. But there are no parties established in the Constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The two parties — Republican and Democratic — once engaged in political disagreements that sparked the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, announced in the famous Gettysburg address “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

That was more than 150 years ago, and the civil disagreements between the parties persist, but as of Gallup’s latest poll in January 2021, more Americans by volume identify as “independent” than do either Democratic or Republican.

The People of the United States are disconnecting from the two parties that caused the Civil War, and the silver lining is that the plurality of Americans are consistently choosing a new path — the question is whether they can organize to accomplish a political movement in support and defense of the Constitution of the United States.