Anger is poison to productive discourse. So let’s both agree to suppress our inclination to get angry for the next little bit.
As those who read last week’s From the Editor might have expected, there were passionate reactions to the sentiments expressed therein. Some applauded, some misread, misinterpreted or just plain misunderstood the piece; others attacked me personally or threatened to tattle on this publication to our advertisers. (For the record, Folio Weekly Magazine does not censor or endorse opinion pieces such as editorials.)
At the heart of these criticisms and attacks lies a growing desire among some citizens to stifle all opinions or versions of events that do not jibe with their own; in short, to limit or utterly suspend our freedoms of speech and of the press.
Sneering at the dedicated men and women who bring us the news 24/7/365 has become a national tradition. As resentment of the press has grown, so has support for censorship, particularly among a sizable, extremely vocal minority of extremists who feel so utterly correct and righteous in their opinions that they have no qualms saying things like, “That damn [racial epithet for African-Americans] should just shut the hell up,” to complete strangers at a restaurant, referring to an SEC football coach who was quite rightly protesting a bad call; so comfortable with their moral majority that they penned the words, “The left in this country are now the pigs,” and “[Y]ou hate white males too. [sic] You must be a tough date,” in an email to the author of an editorial with which they didn’t agree, an email which also stated point blank that the “Left” are trying to suppress Donald J. Trump’s freedom of speech, rather than the other way around.
As shocking and terrifically wrong as these statements are — and as much as it may appear from the outside looking in that the American people as a whole share these sorts of opinions — they are not representative of our countrymen and women. Rest assured that these are not the forward-thinking, enlightened ideas that most often carry the day in this great society. We are better than that.
And, no matter what the individuals who espouse ignorant, offensive opinions would have us believe, most Americans do not share such views. It may seem like we do, but that’s because most Americans were raised with better manners, common decency and mutual respect than to provoke arguments, openly mock or actively wish harm to their fellow citizens for doing nothing other than expressing an opinion different from their own, be it that #BlackLivesMatter, LGBT citizens should be protected from discrimination, no religion should be afforded greater legal protection or deference than another, or a political candidate is a dangerous zealot not fit for the office they seek.
But if you listen to the people who shout the loudest in public, you may reasonably conclude that America is categorized by dissent against equal civil rights; willingness to suspend habeas corpus, freedom of the press and freedom of speech; unwillingness to concede the existence of racial profiling by a few members of law enforcement and condemn the accompanying unjust enforcement of laws against minorities; supports the suppression of human sexuality that reasserted itself in the backlash to the sexual revolution; denies scientific facts concerning the existence and causes of global warming, in spite of those facts being agreed upon by 95 percent of scientists the world over; refuses to hold political candidates accountable for rhetoric that incites violence, supports unconstitutional suppressions of freedom and is so abhorrent as to offend even one’s own political allies. In the vacuum created by the silence of reasonable people, these voices have reached peak volume, until sometimes it seems like theirs are the only songs being sung.
And it’s our fault.
How many of you have cringed to overhear someone you know personally, perhaps even a relative, use a racial slur and said nothing? How many of you have listened in silent protest as someone droned on about their god and how this country was founded on, and should be governed according to, their religious dogma? How many of you have been appalled but just walked away from a group of people who were espousing beliefs that all liberals, or Muslims, or activists should burn in hell or be deported or rounded up into concentration camps, rather than be free to vote and elect representatives who share their values? How many of you have simply deleted emails that were aggressively offensive toward our president or his family or the (unbelievably brave) Caitlin Jenner or Hillary Clinton or Gloria Steinem, rather than respond to the sender to inform them that you do not agree that progressives are what’s wrong with this country, and, furthermore, would prefer not to receive such deplorable content as images of the First Lady doctored to look like a hominoidea?
I’m ashamed to admit that I have done every single one of these abominable, cowardly things; I have remained mute while my every value was derided as stupid, un-American and wrong. Sometimes I’ve done so out of fear, sometimes out of respect for the speaker, sometimes because it didn’t seem worth it, that it was a waste of breath to contradict such garbage. By keeping my mouth shut, being polite and letting fear govern me, I’ve helped create the dangerous political climate in which we find ourselves mired today. I’m not afraid anymore. And nor should you be. Our country, our very way of life, demands it.