Thank you for your interest in and support of the Valley News. So far, we have raised 80% of the funds required to host journalists Claire Potter and Alex Driehaus for their one-year placements in the Upper Valley through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Column: But do they know where we truly live?

  • Bill Nichols. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • The Kansas City Star illustration -- Neil Nakahodo The Kansas City Star illustration — Neil Nakahodo

For the Valley News
Published: 10/16/2021 10:10:11 PM
Modified: 10/16/2021 10:10:12 PM

Protesters succeeded, at least temporarily, in a New Hampshire version of the failed Jan. 6 attempt to reverse our most recent presidential election. They made it impossible for Gov. Chris Sununu’s Executive Council to meet on Sept. 29 and consider $27 million in federal funding for COVID-19 relief. (On Wednesday, the council rejected the funding in a 4-1 party-line vote.) Similar minor-league efforts are taking place in Republican-controlled states all over the U.S., where people are trying to override the laws and trusted practices our democracy requires to function.

You might have heard complaints in recent weeks that the Jan. 6 Select Committee and the Department of Justice are moving much too slowly in their investigations of the riot at the U.S. Capitol. They already know enough, some say, to put former President Donald Trump and members of his administration, including a few members of his family, in orange jumpsuits. But I wonder if moving cautiously and deliberately might be the only way to preserve and rebuild our democracy in the face of such attacks, avoiding the pattern seen elsewhere in the world in which victors celebrate a shift from one autocracy to another by imprisoning — sometimes even executing — their predecessors.

But what can we do about attempts to bypass the norms and laws that make a democracy work?

By “we” I mean all of us who, though we don’t hold elective office, want to help preserve and strengthen our democracy, and I include Republicans and independents who want to help the GOP become once again a responsible, often conservative, political party. I’m less confident than I once was that a search for common ground is the key. But I suspect we should continue to try talking sense across the political chasms that divide us.

Growing up as a Republican, and registering for several years as an independent, I’ve steered clear of bumper stickers and political signs in our yard, hoping for conversations with strangers about problems and possibilities that interest us all.

I had in mind my grandfather, a bus driver, who it seemed to me was able to talk with anyone about almost anything. My wife sometimes pulls this off, too. Just the other day, Nancy talked at some length (and at a safe distance) with a man we know who has chosen not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. When she said we worry about his health, he said he would probably get the shot if he were not being pressured to do so by politicians he mistrusts. Presumably he believes other vaccines he has accepted, as well as laws and regulations he obeys daily, have issued from more trustworthy politicians. It was a talk that made Nancy sad, but it could lead to more conversations.

When people wear T-shirts emblazoned with “You’ve Been Warned” and react to COVID-19 restrictions, or to teaching about cultural differences or racial injustice, with threatening shouts of “We know where you live,” the possibility of healing conversations seems blocked by fear and hatred.

Still, I’m wondering if we can learn to walk and chew gum, politically, at the same time. Nancy and I recently spent a weekend with old college friends, a married couple long deeply committed to the Republican Party. The closest we came to disagreement in several conversations was when I said progressive Democrats are telling one of several important truths: that we must act quickly to address climate change.

One of our visiting friends — who to my surprise voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and for Joe Biden last year — agreed, but insisted it’s more important now for Biden to have legislative wins as we approach the 2022 midterm elections.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. For several years our friend was legislative assistant to a Republican congressman who was a thoughtful moderate, a genuine environmentalist. When our visitor wasn’t teaching political science or working with Congress, he was, until he retired, consulting with people who work with Congress.

I will admit now what I did not say when we talked: He has a good point. Without more legislative victories soon we are likely to get Trump or someone even less committed to our democracy as our next president in 2024.

But as we acknowledge the need to move cautiously, prudently and strategically in addressing political corruption, racial and economic injustice, and climate change, we should be doing all we can to help candidates committed to democratic principles, especially to protecting voting rights. We need to help them win elections in every state, at every level, from school boards to the presidency.

Breakdowns in law and order, from the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to smaller attacks on state legislatures, legislative committees and school boards, seem to have done little to change the minds of most Republican politicians.

But if local elections and polls begin to reveal an awakening among citizens who didn’t vote or who made choices based on claims they’ve begun to see as lies, the party of Lincoln could begin to be reborn. We need to talk, write letters and postcards, and work with local organizations that encourage people to vote.

As a friend of mine in Switzerland has suggested, “We know where you live” — words now used as a threat — could be transformed into a hope-filled story “about living a life where we all know where we all live, namely on the same planet we share, under the same sun.”

Bill Nichols lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at

Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784


© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy