My Turn, M.H. Clements: Never before has our country strayed so far

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 22, 2017

I cannot remember a time in my short life of 74 years when extremism was so strong as today. Print and broadcast media publish information that should be held; violence is actually celebrated in music, graphic and performing arts; and “traditional values” are labeled as somehow inhuman. Perhaps the adage that “one reaps what one sows” comes into focus.

Once upon a time, certain information was held as secret; now, some journalists believe it is their duty to publish every item they learn, without giving hesitation to any such disclosure. This has resulted in agents in our intelligence services being identified, sometimes to their peril.

Recently, after the suicide bomb attack in Manchester, England, British intelligence services briefly suspended sharing information with the U.S. when some details were leaked. Perhaps the rush to be the first to report an item, or the overwhelming desire to claim “as reported here exclusively,” has overtaken what was once simple responsibility. Absolute freedom of the press is absurd.

I ask: If what we see and hear have no impact on our behavior, then why is advertising a multi-billion-dollar industry? Advocates of free speech decry as censorship any suggestion that violence, misogyny or vulgarity should not be acceptable as artistic expression.

Is it really so outdated to desire that art, in any form, should be uplifting? Are those days gone forever? Absolute freedom of expression is the antithesis of personal responsibility and self-control.

Demonstrations and riots have become even more destructive. When protesters rioted against a conservative speaker at University of California at Berkeley, reporters asked if that didn’t amount to violating the free speech rights of the speaker; and one protester pointed out that the U.S. Constitution only bans the government from abridging free speech. Protesters, who do not represent the government, can shout down whomever they please.

Obviously, only some speech is protected; and only one side is acceptable. Here, the reader is urged to seek the definition of bigotry.

A trilogy of thought comes to mind: “Without forgiveness, there can be no reconciliation; those who cannot forgive do not want reconciliation, but revenge; and revenge is insatiable.”

We see success stories of forgiveness: In Germany, Jews again live in relative peace and prosperity, and horrible relics of the concentration camps and ovens are maintained to insure the past is neither erased nor forgotten. In South Africa, apartheid is remembered but has been overcome. Countries which were once colonies are now independent and trade with their former colonial states.

Yet here, we have leaders who will not forgive and demand total removal of even national monuments to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, because they once held slaves. Some wish the Holy Bible to be scorned because scripture does not prohibit slavery, but only speaks of humane treatment by their masters.

Shall we, in fairness and equality, remind these folks that the Prophet Mohammed also held slaves? Or, would that too be considered blasphemous?

I fear that for some, hatred and revenge are the only emotions that matter. And for those people, there can never be enough of either.

I am thankful that our Constitution allows for criticism of our government and elected officials without fear of prosecution — a freedom that does not exist under some other governments. I have seen our flag burned in protest of the conflict in Vietnam, and today, I see some athletes refuse to honor our flag and/or the national anthem because of perceived injustice.

Personally, I would rather see such energy directed against today’s equivalent of slave owners — the human traffickers, the pimps and the drug dealers who control the bodies and lives of other people with abject cruelty.

I shall pray. Please join me.

M.H. Clements lives in Cleveland.