The path forward
Nicholas Marr | Monday, October 9, 2017
Our nation has developed over more than two centuries into the world’s example for a constitutional republic. We have codified the doctrine of natural rights and protected freedom at home and abroad. Yet today, we are increasingly unwilling to examine the difficult questions of our nation’s history and to treat our ideological opponents as well-meaning citizens rather than personal enemies. Overexposure via social media leads us to lose perspective. Videos of riots fill news channels and Facebook feeds, creating the perception that political violence is commonplace. It would follow logically from the attention paid to riots that many Americans support or are involved in the violence. Therefore, they believe that physically attacking those with whom you disagree and those in law enforcement is an acceptable concept.
This is an easy narrative to accept — to take what social media and news outlets spin as fact, and come to the conclusion that America is headed to hell in a hand basket. But what people often lose sight of are the many times our nation has been headed towards hell. We have hurdled there with more force and speed, and with far more significant consequences than today’s divided political climate. Recall the Civil War, the deadliest conflict of our nation’s history in which Americans fought Americans. Recall World War II, the threat of the Third Reich and the near complete fall of Europe. Also recall that with both conflicts, we showed this world to have no place for ideologies founded on human inequality. With each crisis we overcome, we Americans prove to be a resilient people. We will argue about politics and divide ourselves in every conceivable way, but will always unite when called upon. Nothing has changed so dramatically as to suggest we do not still have this ability. In terms of the current political environment and free speech issues, historical perspective makes apparent the impact of social media. To be clear, political violence like the riots at Berkeley is unacceptable and must be stopped. But social media has exacerbated reactionary instincts with which we have always contented, but to which we have not been so attuned. In order to combat this trend and return sanity to political discussion, we must have faith in ourselves. We must have confidence in our fellow citizens.
To this end, I would encourage you to read and interpret our nation’s history and the news of today for yourself. Do not let others restrict the positions you take or the conclusions you reach — your opinion is yours alone, and your right to express it is clear and nearly unrestricted, per the Constitution. To those who would argue otherwise, this definition of free speech is not an excuse for racism, intolerance or other expressions detrimental to the rights of others. It is instead a recognition of the fact that laws are made to protect rights from government and not to manage the affairs of private citizens. Because fundamental rights like the freedom of speech and exercise of religion do not draw power from any branch of government. They are truths of humanity. They are granted by our Creator, and are essential to human dignity. They support the individual, allow liberty to flourish when properly protected, and thus give rise to a nation like ours.
Soon it will be our turn to lead. While we face nothing like the global crises of the 20th century, significant challenges are ahead. The most consequential policy issues include the ballooning national debt and uncontrolled federal spending on the domestic front, and the geopolitical aggression of Russia, China, and Iran abroad. Cultural issues like deterioration of the family culture and doubts about the American creed, which affirms equality regardless of class, also pose significant challenges. We must confront these obstacles and more. Being mindful of the following points will help us to do so. Balanced opinions — informed by a combination of principle, pragmatism, historical context and a common morality — are the best policy. Politically-motivated violence is unacceptable. Many Americans face difficult challenges every day, and positive change begins at the individual and family level. Most importantly, the protections afforded to us by the Constitution mean that the sensationalist media, gridlocked legislature and immature chief executive do not dictate the terms of daily life.
Let us take advantage of the opportunities to learn all that we can about the country and the world while at Notre Dame in order to take responsibility for the future.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.