I Want a Politician Who Stands Up for Everyone

The mayor of San Jose was quoted the other day as criticizing Donald Trump for running the type of campaign which riles up people and causes problems. This in response to the rough treatment that some Trump supporters received after leaving a Trump rally in San Jose. He said, in effect, that Trump has to be held accountable for people who show up outside his rallies and break the law.

What?

Is it any wonder that people are upset with the system when politicians care more about hurt feelings from words than protecting the most basic of all American ideals: freedom of speech? People are sick and tired of lawbreakers who are given the benefit of the doubt while the law abiders – no matter how annoying they are — being called out.

Here’s what the mayor of any city should be doing: he should make sure the police are following the law to ensure anyone attending any political rally is not physically hurt or threatened in any way – regardless of who is speaking.

A mayor should chastise any movement – even if he agrees with its aims – if it crosses the line and becomes anything other than a peaceful protest.

A mayor should choose the side of free speech, and espouse everyone’s rights to proclaim their beliefs – even if they are unpopular.

A mayor should be able to tell the difference between free speech and a lump on the head. There is no justifiable correlation here. (in 99.9% of situations)

A mayor does not have to like the Donald Trumps of this world, but a mayor should defend Trump’s right to say what he likes. It’s the American way. It’s what sustains democracies.

The San Jose mayor has fallen to the more and more common political correct, non-American way by blaming those who speak unpopular sentiments, pandering to the political, and being a party-man in all that he does.

Is it any wonder that so many folks are sick of politicians?

 

The Last Thing We Need Are Safe Spaces (“Or abridging the freedom of speech”)

With all the talk about “safe spaces” on college campuses these days, what seems to be lost is the basic fact that “safe spaces” – or spaces where certain speech is curtailed – only exists in authoritarian nations.

Think about that. There are college students all over America demanding that the conditions be made on campus that would emulate college kids in a country with an authoritarian regime.

It’s stunning, actually. Universities, long thought to be the bastion of free speech and independent thinking, now need to coddle folks who might be offended by certain speech.

Now before I say anything else, let me be clear. There is speech that is tremendously offensive! There is also speech that is narrow-minded and even bigoted. But no safe zone in the world will ever change that because narrow-minded and bigoted people will always exist. There’s no way to stop individuals who have weird views from spouting them off – unless you live under an authoritarian regime. Is that what we want?

Heck, even the Declaration of Independence was offensive to everyone on the other side of the Atlantic.

Limiting speech is never the way to stop the spread of little mindedness. It’s the very essence of open and free speech that is needed to set us apart from the countries who quell and squash any small amount of freedom which might come from someone’s lips. As I wrote recently, we need more speech, not less. The way to combat bad speech is countering it with good speech. It’s quite simple, actually.

But in our modern world, we try to make everything more complicated and so we flap our heads back and forth complaining about the speech coming out of another’s mouth while we could be taking our time to model what appropriate and ethical speech is all about.

I lived for ten years under an authoritative regime. I know what it’s like not to have a first amendment which guarantees everyone’s rights. I guarantee you that this is not what those university students want, and if it is, then they are no better than the Romanias, Cubas, Vietnams, Polands, Cambodias who suffered extensively under a permanent gag order over their free mouths.

We need to protect our right of free speech with every fiber of our being or one day we might find ourselves in a very different country.

We need more speech, not less.

Unfortunately, the more I read the news, the more instances I see of free speech being eroded in America and around the world.

What’s worse is that some of the most egregious examples are happening in our schools and places of higher learning.

As a teacher of both speech and history, I can attest that limiting free spot and independent thinking is not what a divided democracy needs. It needs more of every kind of speech.

It needs conservative speech on liberal campuses.

It needs progressive speech on conservative campuses.

It needs religious speech in public spaces.

It needs secular speech in religious places.

It needs narrow-minded speech. It needs broad-minded speech.

It needs hate speech in order to understand love speech.

Political speech needs to be one of the widest of all, while it seems that both parties are inviting fewer and fewer voices to the table with the Democrats going all uber-left and the Republicans reacting with opposite force.

Free  speech is the second right enshrined in our bill of rights, right after the first right which is what? Religious freedom. I find it interesting that those two are coupled together as number 1 and two. Coincidence? I think not. In case you haven’t reviewed it in a while, here’s how the first amendment starts:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the  free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, …”

Wait. Why did I suddenly veer off and start talking about religion if I’m focused on free speech, aren’t we talking about different things? Not really. Let me quote one of our founding fathers concerning these first two rights. He said:

“One of the amendments to the Constitution… expressly declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,’ thereby guarding in the same sentence and under the same words, the freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press; insomuch that whatever violates either throws down the sanctuary which covers the others.”

In his words, whatever violates the one also violates the other. What incredibly powerful words! We all need to guarantee the right of everyone’s free speech, especially in regards to religious matters. Who is advocating such a stance that would surely step on some toes in today’s society? Hint: he has a memorial in Washington D.C. opposite the White House. Yes, it was Thomas Jefferson who said these words (Kentucky Resolutions 1798).

Our democracy needs more speech. More debate. More argument. More opinions. More freedom of speech. More freedom of religion. An open society is one that will self-regulate itself with countering points of view and rigorous debate.

So whenever you see someone’s speech being snuffed out, do what you can to defend their right to say it, even if you whole-heartedly disagree. It’s one of the great hallmarks of American society. Just ask Thomas Jefferson.

 

In Support of Pluralism

I was reminded again this weekend the wide range of views that people, even in my circle of friends, tend to have on various topics.

The hot topic this past weekend was President Obama’s remarks about the Crusades and Inquisition at the a prayer breakfast. The views from the right wanted to crucify him for making “unnecessary comparisons” while the left quickly came to his defense by reminding the world of the terrible actions committed by Christians throughout history.

While I do have particular views on this topic, they are extraordinarily not important in the light of the beautiful concept of pluralism – a great mix of diverse views being espoused.

Yes, pluralism can be maddening at times. It can bring “progress” to a halt. (I have to put that word in quotes because of the dizzying array of connotations that it drags along with it.) The U.S. Congress has pluralism through the roof – even without parties there is diverse ideas and disagreements.

Let’s face it, we all would love to live in a non-pluralistic society ONLY if we, ourselves, got to be the dictator. If we could live out our “rightness” then what a great place it would be (for us, that is). But the reality is that if we are able to have discussions and freely disagree with our friends and enemies, then we life in a pretty great country.

Democracy necessitates pluralism. And the amount of pluralism that a country has indicates how free of a democracy it really is. Sometimes, a high degree of pluralism seems to be showing the weakness of the society, but being able to see the weakness is exactly one of the reasons why a country is strong.

Think about it. When a country goes out of the way to put on its best face possible to show how strong it really is, you can be sure it is a country that has an authoritarian central government. Look how wonderful life is in North Korea! The North Korean government will prove it by telling you so!

Embrace disagreement and dialogue. Encourage discussion and debate. Do so respectfully and civilly. Pluralism is a wonderful tool where we can challenge our own biases and perhaps even grow in our beliefs and convictions. This will in turn give us more opportunity to debate some more.

Go ahead and lament the slowness of pluralistic bureaucracy, but never wish for anything else.

Is Society More Dysfunctional Than It Used to Be? (not really)

It’s easy to think that we live in a dysfunctional society. When’s the last time Congress worked together on an issue to accomplish a big task? Hmmmm …  ???

We complain about everything. Education (Common Core), Health Care (Obamacare), Economy, civil rights, and whatever are the big issues of the day.

I think that’s the point – whatever are the big issues of the day.

We live in a society and world where everything is magnified because of the media which surrounds us day and night, but the reality is, life has always been messy because democracy is messy – pluralism is messy – a free society is messy.

Why is it messy? Because it can be.

North Korea is not what we would call a messy society because they have no choice to be messy. The lives of the people depend on everyone falling into line, knowing their place, kowtowing at the appropriate times. They have no choice, despite the great suffering that the population endures. It is theirs to endure if they want to live.

We, who live in open societies, have the luxury of being messy and dysfunctional. It’s as frustrating as heck sometimes, but it’s also normal. Messy societies allow the free exchange of ideas — actually, they demand it!

You need proof that American society hasn’t always been dysfunctional and messy? Here’s a few to think about.

  • One of the most dysfunctional bunches of representatives who ever assembled was the Continental Congress which nearly allowed a chance for independence from Britain to pass by due to their bickering and backbiting.
  • What about the anti-FDR Republicans who fought him tooth-and-nail during the 1930s, which led FDR to, in turn, propose the most outrageous and preposterous legislative idea of his own by wanting to pack the Supreme Court more to his favor?
  • Do we even need to mention the Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s?  But did you know the same type of tactics and discrimination happened to many after WWI as well?
  • What about the 1928 election? Alfred Smith, the Democratic presidential candidate was skewered for his Catholic religious beliefs. Some propagandists even used the building of the Holland Tunnel, which was meant to connect New Jersey to Manhattan, as proof that Smith had evil intents. They tried to scare the public that it was going to be a secret tunnel to the Vatican.
  • How about the 1896 presidential election of William McKinley which was basically bought outright by a few wealthy Robber Barons.

These are just five simple examples touching upon a little political history. I’m sure we could scare up a bunch of examples from many aspects of society.

The point is this: it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day tragedies and frustrating situations which we hear about from the media. It’s easy to rain gloom down upon our heads and wish for the “good old days.” But the reality is that each generation has their own demons and struggles with which they have to deal. Each generation has its positive and negatives, and it will always be that way as long as we allow freedom of expression.

Messy dysfunction is much preferable to the alternative. Too bad we can’t ask the North Koreans if my supposition is correct.

“Judgment is corny.” No, that statement is corny.

“Judgment is corny.” No, that statement is corny.

I came across an article which listed out some of the most misogynistic rap lyrics which have ever been written. I’m sure you know the names of the rappers. All the big ones and more I’ve never heard of, but that’s not a big surprise. The music industry celebrities are far off of my radar. But I hear things, and I understand the type of talk which is pervasive, and even glorified, in America. Not all hip-hop stars use those kind of slurs, but they aren’t hard to find.

In the article, after listing out these horrific lyrics which, sadly, constantly graze the ears of our youngsters, the author of the article said, “Judgment is corny, but examining the cultural forces which shape our perceptions and actions is essential.”

I’m sorry, but that’s silly.

Judgment is not only not corny, it is essential in teaching our kids the difference between right and wrong. Oh wait, you think right and wrong is corny too?

Well, relative thoughts about right and wrong truly are corny because whether we want to admit it or not, we all know when someone has done something wrong – like threatening to beat up or sexually assault a woman. Wait, where did I just hear that? Oh yes, in those lyrics I mentioned above.

Though I believe the author of that article had good intentions, it does no one any good at all to dance around an issue so as not to offend anyone or, for heaven’s sake, make a judgment about someone’s behavior.

For me it’s clear.

Lyrics written for the purpose of glorifying violence against women are wrong.

Lyrics written for the purpose of sexually objectifying women are wrong.

Lyrics written for the purpose of calling women whores and sluts are wrong.

Why do we continually tolerate this? Why do we let the youth of America spend their money on concerts, music, and merchandise that promote this type of behavior/

If the music you are blaring through your headphones would not be welcome in your house if it was playing through your family’s stereo, then why are you letting it rattle around in your head. Hey teens, does your mother know what you are listening to?

Call me old fashioned, but I think women should be treated with respect. I think young men should be taught that women are not objects to be thought of and spoken about in such flippant terms.

I don’t want to shut down speech. I’m in favor of all speech. The more the better! But all speech is not to be judged equally. Just because someone has a right to say something doesn’t mean they won’t or shouldn’t be criticized for it.

There are true heroes and people to be admired in this world, but those who use misogynistic slurs are not among those whom I would look up to. Sadly, there are millionaires who live high and mighty off lyrics like that.

And, yes, there are plenty of female performers who also perpetuate the stereotype that women are objects – insert a picture of Miley Cyrus into your mind. No, sorry. Please don’t. On a side note, you may have heard that the Dominican Republic cancelled her show because they (gosh) made a judgment that what she represents is not for them. Good for them!

There is plenty of good music of all genres (including rap and hip-hop) out there. Choose some that would make your mother and all the female influences in your life proud. Someday it will make a big difference.