What I Believe

Posted: March 2, 2018 by Brian Johnston

Americans tend to be pragmatists. Might be one of the reasons that the whole, ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.’ adage hangs on a needlepoint in so many American kitchens. Inherently, we know that each of us has precious little control over the way things are in the world and that rather than fight it, it is best we simply accept reality for what it is and move on from there.

I’m afraid this same attitude causes the stagnation we feel in the United States. You can see it in the way we talk about the changes we’d like to see in politics. I am always encouraged by the fact that I get widespread agreement from friends on both sides of the political fence when I say that the US needs term limits in all branches of the government. I am equally crestfallen each time that moment of agreement is shattered with the phrase, “Oh, but that requires a two thirds majority, and that’s never going to happen.”

THAT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN. Wow—what a useful phrase! Because the phrase sells wholesale constantly in America with nobody ever really gut-checking it in the first place. That’s never going to happen—oh, yeah…I guess you’re right.

Politicians love that phrase because it instantly gets them off the hook without ever having to provide a reason why. It is such a ubiquitous part of the American lexicon that it serves to end any debate before it ever begins, thereby ensuring the status quo remains exactly that. Everyone gets to COP OUT but nobody has to COP TO IT.

There are other forces stifling growth here in America as well. Political correctness has taken all controversy of any kind and not just moved it to the back burner, but has taken it off the stove altogether. We run around in circles with our language in some futile attempt to NEVER OFFEND ANYONE. Worse yet, Americans have become so trigger-happy with our outrage that we call people out as guilty—many times in the public forums of the Internet—without even the slightest regard to determining the facts beforehand.

Finally there’s the litany of topics Americans are never to discuss. It is huge and it is growing. Don’t believe me? Start typing in Google ‘Things we are nev…’—Ah, there it is! Things we are never supposed to talk about—at work, at a party, at school, among new friends, among old friends, on a first date, and so on. The first five are pretty standard-issue: politics, race, money, religion, and sex. The problem with this whole concept is that it is rooted in ignorance. It ensures that not only will we never evolve any further ideologically than wherever we were the day before this policy came into effect, but also it sets a maximum growth mark: Right here, right now. Anything that happens after that moment can only be steps AWAY from the goal. Because the moment you’ve decided to stop TALKING about a topic is the moment you’ve also chosen to stop LEARNING about a topic. Once you’ve stopped learning about a subject, you’ve stopped growing as well. After all, is it not the crux of ignorance to believe a problem will just go away if you simply IGNORE it? We’ve tried that since the end of the civil rights movement. We’re supposed to be at the point of judging people by the content of their characters, not the color of their skin. I don’t know about you, but from where I stand, I think we’ve FAILED by this measure.

There’s an average of one mass shooting in America every single day. Every day we see examples on the news of people—many times children—who commit the most heinous of crimes with no regard to humanity whatsoever. Clearly, pretending that nothing is wrong in America has not helped at all. Our inner cities are in crisis mode—murders are at an all-time high while there exists an absolute distrust between the police and the communities that need the most help. When even children know that ‘snitches get stitches,’ we can only conclude that we are losing the battle to take back our city streets.

It would be easy to be discouraged and just say the problems are simply too overwhelming to solve. But I am nothing else if not an optimist. I believe America is a place that has taken on and tackled big problems before, and that we are equipped to do it once again. But in order for that to take place, we need take a little bit of inventory and sweep clean a little bit of bullshit. Let’s begin.

The most important realization that we all need to have right now is simple: Americans are nowhere near as divided as the media would have you believe. It’s true, and all you have to do is watch real Americans in crisis to see the difference in reality versus what the news networks would have you believe. When the chips are down, Americans band together. Picking and choosing tiny sound bites and 20 second YouTube clips to prove otherwise may be very easy to do, but it’s journalistic low hanging fruit at best and outright deceptive at worst. Nobody wants to be judged by their worst single moment caught on camera. But that is EXACTLY what the media does.

The problem starts with the concept that good video equates to newsworthiness. This was surely the case years ago when everyone didn’t have a video camera in their pocket at any given time. After all, a news outlet would have to get awfully lucky with surveillance cameras or a news crew that just HAPPENED to be in the right place at the right time to capture something outrageous. When this was a rarity, it was true that having good video footage was reason enough to be newsworthy.

But shouldn’t that standard change now? Clearly it hasn’t, as video footage—even BAD portrait-mode video footage—has become mainstay in TV news, especially if it’s inflammatory in some manner. I’m reminded of the silly airport video that Ashley Judd posted complaining about the TSA worker calling her ‘sweetheart,’ commenting on her dress, and then—horror of horrors—TOUCHING her. Much ado about absolutely nothing. My personal kudos to the TSA worker in question—you were trying to be pleasant and making small talk. In most businesses, we’d call that a positive customer interaction. In The United States of the Outraged, it’s harassment, and Ashley Judd is exalted for casting a light on such a terrible problem. It bought her some nice face time, too, having been plastered on the cover of Time magazine as one of the ‘Silence Breakers’ in the #METOO movement. Quite honestly, I bet the TSA agent had no idea she was even famous. When was the last time anyone gave a rat’s ass about Ashley Judd? Maybe 1997 or so?

The bottom line is that the media will not police itself, so we’ve got to be vigilant and do that job for them. When you see a story that evokes some level of outrage within you, take a moment to check a fact or two. Ask yourself why this clip is even on the news in the first place? Is the video itself newsworthy or simply inflammatory? Try to place yourself in the context of the video and ask yourself if your response would in any way mirror what you are seeing. I am always reminded of what my mother used to say, “If it doesn’t make any sense, it’s probably not true.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that phrase; smart lady, my mom.

Here’s a thought: How about we stop using name-calling and pointless invective to label ‘the other side’ in any argument. It was a jarring moment for me, 25 years a moderate conservative, to be called a ‘Lib-tard’ by some random person on Facebook because I questioned the rationale behind Donald Trump’s Muslim immigration ban. I merely pointed out that our nation was built on the principle of Freedom of Religion and that anything that serves to undermine that value is inherently un-American. Apparently, this person disagreed with my assessment. I’ll never really know what they were thinking. They were satisfied at hurling an invective my way and trolling to see if I’d respond. Two weeks later I registered my disapproval for banning transgendered people from the military. Lo and behold, this same person was right there to, once again, call me a Lib-tard. THIS RANDOM PERSON CHOSE TO FOLLOW ME ON FACEBOOK JUST TO ARGUE WITH ME! While I found the whole thing endemic to the current mood in our society, I couldn’t help but get a little kick out of the idea that this person was so eager to argue with me that they’d take these kinds of steps.

There was a time in America when spirited debate was actually encouraged. Freedom of speech is supposed to be a cornerstone of American patriotism. But freedom of speech is under attack in this nation from all sides, and has given way to Binary Tribalism. Binary Tribalism has no grey area—you are either with us, or you’re against us; there’s no space for anyone in the middle.

This stands in strong contrast to reality for most people. Most of us think all issues are somewhat subjective and that there’s actually a spectrum for where people stand on any given topic. The truth is that while the fringe is surely the squeaky hinge that gets all the media oil, in reality very few people live on the fringe. Actually, most people stand one standard deviation to the left or right of center on any issue. In the meaty part of the curve there’s all kinds of potential for righting the wrongs of our society. Most of these people will lament the cyclical nature of welfare, but also understand that everyone needs help once in a while. Most of these people want a strong economy that can provide good jobs, but not at the expense of clean water and air. Most of these people want a strong military that can keep America safe, but want the government to remember that these are their sons and daughters FIRST when considering putting soldiers in harm’s way. Most of these people accept that nuclear weapons will likely always exist, but wonder if it’s necessary to have the 15,000+ of them amongst the nations of the world. Most of these people accept that there will always be an upper and lower class in any economy, but wonder why so few have so much while so many have so little. Most of these people seek to do what we all try to do: Live our lives, pursue our vocations, raise our families, and do so in peace. It’s only then, when we realize that we’re not all that much different from one another in the first place, that we all have a chance to make progress in unity. I believe that while these values seem to be slipping further and further out of place, they are not out of reach. It’s up to us to decide which way to go.

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