The Honor Blog
Today is: Apr 10, 2020
Post From: Dec 19, 2018
The Coarsening of the Public Discourse
I make an effort to avoid political topics in this column. The main reason for that is that I want to have conversations about honor, and those conversations work best when people are thoughtful and engaged, when they reflect carefully. Political conversations do not often proceed that way - they almost always involve powerful emotions which lead people to dig into entrenched positions.
There are more selfish reasons for that decision, as well - the simple fact of the matter is that I worry what might happen to me if my political stances became known. I consider it very likely that there would be damage done both to personal relationships and employment opportunities. It is not supposed to be that way - our society is supposed to be open to all viewpoints. But the reality is that it is not. conservative viewpoints are silenced and stigmatized. Here is a good reflection on that reality, from a man who points out that it was much easier for him to be known as gay than it is to be known as conservative.
The stigmatization of conservativism is particularly important for this column, because the event which makes me feel compelled to address an explicitly political topic was a meeting of something called the Omaha Free Speech Society.
The topic for the morning's discussion was "The Obama Legacy". To initiate the conversation, we heard from three speakers - one was the 2018 Democrat nominee for Congress from Nebraska's second district, another was a radio host for a station which serves a predominantly African-American audience (he himself is African-American), and the third is a radio host for a predominantly conservative radio station. They followed their expected roles - the first two were full-throated Obama supporters, and the third was there to provide some level of counter-balance.
The initial statement was delivered by the former Congressional candidate - who centered her remarks around the idea that President Obama's legacy is that of a scandal-free administration. And while there were many variations on that theme during the hour-long conversation, that is really what set the tone for the morning.
There is only one problem with this statement: it is not true.
Of course, we must recognize that people of good conscience sometimes disagree, and in this case there is room for dispute because `scandal-free' is a very vague characterization. However, what I am about to write should not be controversial - it is well-substantiated.
The reality is that there is a long list of scandals associated with the Obama administration. To his credit, our conservative presenter offered some pushback by mentioning the Benghazi scandal. However, his comment was brief - more of a nudge-back than a push-back - and it was quickly buried by people who did not want to acknowledge it. No mention was made of many other problematic events - like the press manipulation which surrounded the Iran deal, the deception used to present Obamacare, Fast and Furious, Uranium One, and . . . you get the idea.
In my mind, the absolute worst of the scandals which took place during the Obama administration was the way the IRS was used to intimidate and silence conservative groups. Again, I am not making up a conspiracy theory - the person who was responsible for the activity, Lois Lerner, confessed publicly that this was done.
Frankly, I think that should halt conversation: The Obama administration used the IRS to silence political opponents.
Say that out loud to yourself.
That is the single most corrupt action undertaken by an American presidential administration. Ever. It is two orders of magnitude worse than the petty information-gathering burglary that drove President Nixon from office.
The only action I can imagine which would be more corrupt would be if an intelligence service, like the FBI, were to make use of fabricated evidence, such as the Steele Dossier, in an attempt to undermine the campaign of the sitting president's political opponent. And there is mounting evidence that the Obama administration engaged in that activity as well.
Again, this is all public knowledge. Anyone making a good-faith effort to learn about the conservative point of view would have no trouble at all finding this information. And while progressive partisans will view the stories listed above in a different light, it simply is not possible to deny that these are scandals - they are noteworthy events which have the potential to reflect very badly on the persons involved. They are scandalous. I can think of only two ways to explain a person who would ignore those things and declare the Obama administration to have been scandal free.
One of those is that the presenters were deliberately being untruthful. I don't believe that to be the case; they seemed like perfectly nice, sincere people, and I like to believe that people are being honest until I have a reason to believe otherwise.
The other is that they remain ignorant either of the events or of their scandalous nature. That is plausible, disappointingly, because the national news media has done everything in its power to bury those stories, to minimize their importance in the minds of the public.
That prospect may well be the more terrifying of the two. As I said before, all that is required to see outside of the narrative created by the press is to engage in a small amount of critical thinking, to seek out one or two sources which take an opposing point of view. Yet these ostensibly well-informed public figures did not take that step. They never questioned their own assumptions, never entertained a challenge to their beliefs.
Now, it certainly is fair to argue that I should have provided that challenge. The point of the forum is to allow people to do so in a civil manner, and I have spoken up and said controversial things in the past. So it is reasonable to ask why I did not feel able to in this instance.
The answer is politeness. It feels rude to confront people in public, to claim that they are speaking untruth. I would not have used the word `liar', but that certainly is the way such a challenge would have been interpreted - and it is a really harsh thing to say.
Since I did not want to say something which might be perceived as a personal attack, I hesitated. I searched my mind for the most tactful way to present my challenge, a way to challenge the presenter's opening statement which would not come across as impugning her character. Then I spent a moment running through my facts, to make sure my position was well grounded. And finally I spent a moment trying to find a succinct way to say what I wanted to say, since I wanted to be considerate of the time and opinions of the more than fifty other people present.
In short, I stopped myself in an effort to maintain the civility of the gathering, and in that moment of hesitation, the opportunity passed.
Compare that thought process with the contribution of another member of the group, another radio talk show host (notice a theme?). This person commented that Obama was elected after George W. Bush, because voters wanted someone who could complete a sentence, then Trump was elected after Obama, because he appeals to white racists. Impressive, isn't it? In just a few sentences, he managed to insinuate that half the people in the room were stupid racists. You have to give him credit - it takes hard work to achieve that level of appalling rudeness.
The contrast is striking - and offers another reason for my hesitation. When someone is willing to throw out such extraordinary, outrageous bombshells, it is difficult to know how to respond. Do you defend yourself angrily? Do you laugh it off as ridiculous? Do you carefully expose the untruths? Unfortunately, if you take a moment to think about your response, the opportunity moves past.
Another question to ask is whether I was the only one who might have spoken up. After all, I only attend the forum once every few months - what about the organizers or someone who attends the forum more frequently? Surely they have better standing from which to raise questions. What about the conservative presenter? That was supposed to be his role.
I do not want to be too critical of any of those people, especially the presenter - I have listened to his show on the radio, and he is a good and thoughtful talk host. I think he is a firm conservative, so I do not want to bash him for shying away from confrontation in this case. Honestly, I suspect his reluctance was born of the same feelings as my own - he did not want to be rude or confrontational with the other presenters and, like a good public speaker, he was trying to be sensitive to the mood of the crowd.
I believe most of the other conservatives in the room felt similarly - we hesitated out of a desire to be considerate, and in doing so lost our opportunity to respond. That is extraordinarily frustrating, and after a while I decided to leave - it felt like a waste of time to sit through a discussion based almost entirely on untruths. That frustration is a large part of the reason I only attend the forum sporadically. The speech really is not very open, and (more importantly) neither are the minds.
Unfortunately, that is not a very satisfying response. When considerate, civil voices choose not to participate in the discourse, it rapidly coarsens. The loudest and rudest voices dominate, particularly if they do not feel a very strong allegiance to the truth - by which I mean a strong enough allegiance to seek out alternative points of view, to question their assumptions.
That is quite a dilemma, because I believe the Omaha Free Speech forum to be a microcosm of the national conversation. The rudest, most obnoxious voices have come to dominate the public discourse, and they do not pay much attention to whether their statements are true. Polite people are driven away from the public conversation, leaving it in the hands of those who are perfectly content to distort reality to suit their political agendas.
Ironically, progressives have been braying that exact same complaint ever since Donald Trump was elected, seeking to lay responsibility for the coarsening of our public discourse at his feet and at the feet of his supporters. But ask yourself, which political party has dominated the public discourse for the past several decades? It has been the Democrats, the progressives. The loudest, rudest, most vulgar voices in the conversation are the progressive voices.
The effects are tangible. Consider that the nicest thing the press said about Ronald Reagan was that he was an amiable dunce, George H. W. Bush was smeared as a warmongering racist, George W. Bush was portrayed as an unintelligent draft-dodger as well as a warmongering racist, and Mitt Romney was a misogynistic tax cheat. Mr. Romney is a particularly telling case, because he is a cross between a choir boy and an Eagle scout - in fact, he may literally be both of those things - and yet dishonest and rude progressives did not hesitate to de-humanize him.
Meanwhile, the same progressives who accuse Trump of coarsening the national discourse, the same ones who have smeared every conservative political candidate for the last thirty years - those people promote and defend groups like Antifa, and BAMN (By Any Means Necessary), which engage in violence in order to achieve their political ends.
In short, the hesitation and consideration of polite people has left the public conversation - both at the Omaha Free Speech Society and in the nation as a whole - in the hands of the rudest, most obnoxious portion of our society. It is hard to know how to respond; it feels like a waste of time to try to engage with people whose minds already are closed, and who will smear you as stupid and racist if you disagree with them. On the other hand, simply walking away leaves progressives to infuse the public discourse with hate, as they have been doing for the last three decades.
Tea Party Rejects IRS Apology, Republicans
ABC News, May 10 2013.
Greene, Chad Felix
The Stigma of Being Conservative.
The Federalist, Dec 11 2018.
The Gruber Confession.
The Washington Post, Nov 13 2014.
The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's
Foreign Policy Guru.
The New York Times, May 5 2016.
FBI email chain may provide most damning
evidence of FISA abuses yet.
The Hill, Dec 5 2018.