Our Era of Reputational BeheadingsMelanie Sturm | @ThinkAgainUSA
Fleeing East Africa for Italy in a rickety rescue boat, 15 Christian asylum seekers were thrown to their deaths last week by fellow refugees because they weren’t praying to Allah.
We’re shocked by reports of innocents murdered for their beliefs, and orange-jump-suited victims marching to their deaths because, as Americans, we’re safe from such persecution.
Our freedoms evolved in part from an infamous, hysteria-induced episode in 17-century Puritan Massachusetts where anyone suspected of witchcraft was persecuted. The Salem witch trials became a cautionary tale about the dangers of false accusations and contempt for due process, and an allegory for the anti-Communist “witch-hunts” led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s.
While heads don’t literally roll in America, the reputations of those refusing to Think Again often do, the result of character assassinations that corrode our civil society.
Witness the defamatory antics of Sen. Harry Reid while Senate majority leader. Like McCarthy, Reid regularly hurled false accusations at adversaries, including his 2012 election-year claim that Mitt Romney “hasn’t paid taxes for ten years.” Asked recently if he regretted his charge, the man entrusted with leading the world’s greatest deliberative body crowed, “Romney didn’t win, did he?”
Accused of having “no sense of decency,” McCarthy’s recklessness was eventually halted and the Senate later censured him. However, Reid was not censured. Neither was Sen. Edward Kennedy, who notoriously smothered in its crib the 1987 Supreme Court nomination of eminent jurist Robert Bork – called highly qualified by Sen. Joe Biden before he joined Kennedy in reputationally beheading the judge.
Explaining later why Bork needed to be cast as the devil, anti-Bork activist Ann Lewis acknowledged that an open debate “would have deep and thoughtful discussions about the Constitution, and then we would lose.” Hence, Kennedy’s outrageous claim that in Bork’s America, “women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters.”
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera wrote, “the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.” Toxic political discourse is now standard, as dissenters are isolated, scorned and even silenced. To paraphrase George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” these days it’s hard to tell man from pig.
For example, those who believed Police Officer Darren Wilson didn’t kill Ferguson teenager Michael Brown while Brown had his hands up -- a myth discredited by the Justice Department – were labeled racists.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears less esteemed by the Obama administration than Iran’s “Death to America”-spewing Ayatollah -- and is persona non grata at the White House for doubting the emerging Iranian nuclear deal.
To oppose the coerced participation of service providers in same-sex weddings is deemed anti-gay, the label attached to former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich who lost his job last year for believing that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Righteously indignant at the purging of dissidents, gay-marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan said, "If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us."
With dissident scientists in their crosshairs, environmental bullies Rep. Raul Grijalva and Sen. Edward Markey are also threating free speech -- and academic freedom and scientific inquiry. Their witch-hunt has already bagged Professor Roger Pielke Jr. of the University of Colorado.
Despite supporting policies to combat climate change, Pielke’s offense was finding no increase in extreme weather due to global warming, a conclusion endorsed by the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change. “The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt,” he said after deciding to abandon climate research.
As a columnist, I’m a target for vilification that attempts to escort contrarians from polite society. I’ve been branded a bigot for applying Abraham Lincoln’s “absence of malice” vision to our culture’s civil wars; an extremist and warmonger for asking, “Why coexist with a mortal Iranian threat?” and an elitist leech for decrying our economy’s uneven playing field, warped by cronyism. For breaking with “settled science” orthodoxy, pitchforked prosecutors urged my editors to censor me.
Though I crave more reasoned debate that illuminates, even unifies, I recognize that my detractors’ right to unconstructive criticism is the flip side of my right to free expression. Individual liberty is the reason my persecuted grandparents came to America in a wave of huddled masses, not unlike those crossing dangerous seas today.
Though jeopardized, the open, diverse and vibrant society we’ve become is the source of America’s creativity, prosperity, generosity… and decency. We’re still the greatest continuing experiment in human history, founded on the unique idea that people from different places with differing backgrounds and values could forge a civilized and free nation. It’s an idea that all Americans have a responsibility to sustain.
Think Again - to preserve our decency and vitality, people don’t need to change their minds, just open them.