â€œAmerica isnâ€™t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it bad, because itâ€™s going put up a fight. Itâ€™s going to say: You want free speech? Letâ€™s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, whoâ€™s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country canâ€™t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the â€˜land of the free.â€™â€
That just about says it all.
In the wake of Charlottesville, where some have eviscerated anyone who dare not share their beliefs, we need such sage advice.
But how incredibly ironic.
It takes words from a liberal-leaning movie (â€œThe American Presidentâ€), spoken by a liberal actor (Michael Douglas as president), directed by a liberal activist (Rob Reiner) to remind us, especially those on the Left, that Americaâ€™s greatest strength is its tolerance of all viewpoints, no matter how much they â€œmake your blood boil.â€ Lose that â€" and we seem to be well on our way â€" then the Land of the Free ceases to be the beacon of hope for billions. And once that specialness is gone, it will almost certainly be lost forever.
America needs to wake up â€" and grow up. Itâ€™s time to lose the â€œIâ€™m entitled to everything attitude.â€ Itâ€™s time to stop being so damn self-righteous; easily offended; ultra-sensitive; hyper-partisan; intolerant; lacking a sense of humor; and maddeningly hypocritical.
Thatâ€™s a tall order, but Americans have a storied history of forging ahead when things looked bleakest. We must use Charlottesville as a turning point to reverse the trend of an increasingly intolerant America. But you canâ€™t solve a problem until you know what it is. Letâ€™s look at what went wrong after Charlottesville so we donâ€™t make the same mistakes again:
1) The controversy erupted after President Trump condemned violence on both sides of the Charlottesville protest/counter-protest, rather than exclusively criticizing the KKK and neo-Nazis. Talking heads screamed in disbelief, editorials hammered the president, social media went nuts, and politicians jumped on the bandwagon. That hysteria ended any meaningful discussion on race relations and freedom of speech, since everything became drowned out by ridiculous claims that Mr. Trump (and, by extension, his supporters) were racists and Klan sympathizers. Hell, we even saw a resolution introduced by Congressional Democrats to impeach the president because they didnâ€™t like what he said!
Think about that for a second. Regardless of what â€œsideâ€ oneâ€™s on, any rational person will clearly see the utter lunacy of wanting to impeach a president for non-criminal words. And if itâ€™s Trump now, it will be a Democrat next time, as that precedent, once set, will never go away. Have we forgotten that unique American safeguard for removing elected officials for non-criminal offenses? Itâ€™s call elections.
Sadly, Americaâ€™s new modus operandi is to avoid real issues (since they take hard work and honest conversation), and instead transform red herring topics into headlines. Sounds good, but accomplishes nothing.
Letâ€™s cut to the chase: the president was condemned for condemning violence. In other words, the countryâ€™s leader correctly identified violence that occurs on both sides, in Charlottesville and elsewhere, and got blasted. But why? Since when is condemning violence wrong?
But it happened because too many only want criticism leveled at those with whom they disagree (Mr. Trump, protesters against statue removal, KKK, etc.) and NOT at those with whom they ally themselves (Black Lives Matter, Occupy, Antifa, etc.). And that cuts both ways, such as when Leftist groups protest to the lament of the Right â€" though, truth be told, the Left is far more intolerant by a substantial margin.
Bottom line: Truth unites; hypocrisy tears us apart.
2) Readers know I virtually never write in the first person, and rarely get personal. Hereâ€™s an exception: in last weekâ€™s column, I defended the absolute right of Charlottesville protesters to rally (a right that was stripped away by Virginiaâ€™s governor and Charlottesvilleâ€™s mayor since they canceled the protest before it began). For defending liberty, I was called vile names, from â€œwhite nationalist sympathizerâ€ to â€œKlansman without robes.â€ Fine. Spitballs off a battleship, and certainly the right of people to disagree, no matter how childish and bigoted their criticisms were.
You want to draw a line and stand opposed? Great. But you damn well better have a solid argument, and even more so, be consistent. You want to call me a Klan sympathizer? Then you also must call me a Black Lives Matter sympathizer. Ditto for the Black Panthers. Occupy and Antifa, too (when they do things legally), since I always defended their right of expression, especially when some on the Right wanted to shut them down. And I defended Native Americans when they protested an oil pipeline running through their lands. And â€œBrown Pride,â€ anti-capitalist rallies, and even â€œMake America Mexico Againâ€ protests.
Remember years ago when many wanted to cancel then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadâ€™s speech at Columbia University? Yours Truly was one of the strongest voices advocating that he not be banned, and his event allowed to proceed (it did).
I certainly didnâ€™t agree with what many of those groups advocated, but without fail, I supported their right to say it. Just as important, I wanted to hear their message, which, after doing so, helped my positions evolve on certain issues. Civil discourse and respecting the opinions of others, especially when you donâ€™t agree, is the way itâ€™s supposed to be done.
So why the mad rush to shut down all voices with which we disagree? Of what are we so afraid? Do we really think an extremist taking center stage is going to magically transform millions? Just as Americans didnâ€™t follow Ahmadinejad, theyâ€™re not going to become lackeys of the Klan and â€œbecome racistâ€ simply because that group holds a rally. When did we lose so much faith in Americansâ€™ ability to know right from wrong? People know best. We donâ€™t need government officials telling us what we already know â€" or what they want us to think â€" nor do we need them â€œprotectingâ€ us by selectively shredding the constitutional rights of fringe groups.
3) The last thing President Trump should have done was condemn the Klan and neo-Nazis by name. Doing so elevates an extremely small fringe-of-a-fringe group onto the world stage, giving them unprecedented credibility where they, and their message, becomes front page news around the globe.
So if you vehemently oppose that organization, as 99.9 percent of Americans do, why then would you ever give it a mammoth level of credibility that it doesnâ€™t deserve? We play into the hands of the extremists, who have come to expect, and rely upon, such over-reactions.
Obviously, you donâ€™t give them a free pass. The smartest, most presidential thing a commander-in-chief can do is smash the message while ignoring the messenger. These groups thrive on publicity, so nothing would be more frustrating than being cast off as irrelevant.
4) An extremely dangerous mentality came to light in the aftermath of Charlottesville, with some making statements such as â€œthese groups and their thoughts need to be eradicated.â€ Eradicated? This is America, not Hitlerâ€™s Germany. No one, no matter what they believe, should ever be â€œeradicated.â€ That is reminiscent of re-education camps, and much worse.
5) Despite the firestorm, race relations at the grassroots level are far better than they appear. The reason it seems worse is threefold: failed political and business leadership born out of cowardice; social media vastly over-magnifying the impact of fringe groups; and agitators (including media personalities) with ulterior motives who profit from nonstop racial turmoil.
If we simply stepped away from our phones and talked to people face-to-face, weâ€™d see an America much more unified than that being portrayed.
Thatâ€™s the truth. And that truth can set us free.
But as Colonel Jessup said in â€œA Few Good Menâ€ â€œYou canâ€™t handle the truth.â€
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]