Poli-ticks: Gosh, I miss the America I grew up with

By Arlene Violet, Esq.
Posted 1/7/22

Normally, this is the column where I have the audacity to suggest New Year resolutions for resident politicians. Instead I have a more urgent resolution for all of us: I want us Americans to go back …

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Poli-ticks: Gosh, I miss the America I grew up with

Posted

Normally, this is the column where I have the audacity to suggest New Year resolutions for resident politicians. Instead I have a more urgent resolution for all of us: I want us Americans to go back to being Americans again.

Despite our founders putting Freedom of Speech in the very First Amendment, we treat it like a foreign species. Routinely, we castigate anyone who has a thought different from our own. The inability to give space for what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. called “the thought we hate” locks us into only those voices that confirm what we want to believe. We excommunicate from discussion opinions that are anathema from our own.

I am not suggesting that all thoughts are created equal. I recognize that in the social media world, the power of an idea, no matter how ill-conceived, “far exceeds the ethical systems needed to use them fairly and wisely” (ACTA, Aug. 2021, p.1).

The fact remains, nonetheless, that this country gives us the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable which, by the way, seems the perfect elixir as to what an education is supposed to be about.

Nothing pains me more than when I hear folks say they won’t discuss certain issues with other family members at holiday gatherings. I remember many a celebration with my family where debate ensued frequently, while my mother, thinking it was time to give it a break, would sing “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” from her favorite hymn. We’d all burst out laughing. But discuss we did!

Regrettably 2021 saw a year when even in the bastion of higher education, professors were fired for speaking what some thought were untenable ideas. Universities, in particular, must be the places where conflicting ideas are entertained and analyzed. Viewpoint diversity and intellectual pluralism should reign supreme on campuses, despite the societal mores which baptize pronouncements as all equal in value. They are not.

Political rhetoric has replaced reason and seeks to manipulate the social discourse by propaganda, untruths and “information” warfare.

As the United States now stands, there is not a brotherhood or sisterhood or any semblance of “E Pluribus Unum”; there is only “Them” and “Us”. We have gotten comfortable with “Red States” and “Blue States.” I’ve heard people gloat when a “Red State” unvaccinated person dies. Hey, isn’t he supposed to be our brother?

On the other hand, whatever happened to personal choice as a right, but basing a decision on others’ common good? You have a choice not to fly as your right, but with other people on the plane shouldn’t we “sisters all’’ mask up and not beat up the flight attendant for enforcing a rule?

What’s the big deal? Just don’t get on the airplane and exercise your right on the ground.

Of course, this requires an accommodation for our other citizens, which some people aren’t willing to make. They usually are the same people who park in handicapped spaces because they don’t want to walk too far.

Sadly, the un-American hostility extends to immigrants, usually those of black or brown skin. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free …” Lady Liberty preaches . . .

Gosh, I miss America.

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island attorney general.

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