I never thought I’d see the day when Americans would be so desperate to be heard. Though our society is founded on that most fundamental of liberties — the freedom of speech — we have become a place where those who speak reasonably are drowned out by those who shout angrily.
That concerns me not only as a citizen, but also as a father. I don’t want my children to grow up in a society where only the most strident voices are heard, but the recent events in our nation’s capital lead me to believe that’s what we’ve become.
The shutdown and beyond
It’s not just about the imbecilic political spectacle of the government shutdown. It is also the specter of a man burning himself to death for reasons still unknown, and the heartbreaking death of a young mother who tried to breach White House security while allegedly suffering from delusions.
These kinds of incidents, while decidedly different in nature, have several things in common: They are loud, they are unfortunate and they are impossible to ignore.
Take, for example, the government shutdown.
Such a spectacle could not take place if our representatives were unwilling to do anything to be heard. Nor could it continue if our culture didn’t value volume over veracity.
Most importantly, it wouldn’t be allowed under any other form of government.
Freedom’s unsavory side dish
For all the freedom it affords us, democratic rule is messy, because it is predicated on the premise that each of us has a voice; that we are imbued with the inalienable right to use that voice; and that we are free to criticize, to opine and to shout our dissent to the rafters.
But with those freedoms come responsibility to, among other things, adhere to the result of the public debate.
In our system, if laws are passed through due process and upheld by the courts, our representatives are responsible for upholding those laws.
The Patient Care and Affordable Care Act — otherwise known as Obamacare — went through that process and the president who shepherded that law into existence was reelected. That means the opponents of the law lost the public debate, and did so in three ways: Legislatively, judicially and electorally.
Shutting down the government in an effort to be heard after losing the public debate so thoroughly is tantamount to Miley Cyrus twerking on an awards show in order to mask her lack of talent. It is, in a word, ridiculous. But more than that, it is a sad microcosm of what we’ve become as a nation.
Grasping for answers
I don’t pretend to know why a man would set himself on fire in the nation’s capital, but I suspect he felt it was the only way he could be heard.
I don’t know why a mother would drive her child into the barriers outside the White House, and then elude police in a chase that ended in tragedy, but I suspect that on some level — even in the midst of her alleged delusions — she wanted to be heard.
I do, however, know this: In a society in which we all have the right to speak freely, openly and loudly without fear of reprisals, we should not have to reach for extremes in order to be heard.
We should be able to communicate reasonably no matter what our points of view.
We should know that the ability to use our voices comes with certain responsibilities.
And, our governmental representatives should exemplify those responsibilities in every official interaction.
When our representatives refuse to yield to our process of governance on every level because they purport to speak for the interests of the people in their districts, though, they are shirking the responsibility that comes with their voices.
They are looking out for the next election rather than the next generation.
They are hurting the country that we are passing down to our children.
They are misusing their voices.
It’s time to recognize that you are responsible for our nation, ladies and gentlemen. Lower your voices, embrace your responsibility and reopen the government.
Our children are watching.