Varner: “But above all the people” | Columnists


You probably know the lyrics to Frank Sinatra’s song, “The House I Live In”: “The hello and the handshake, the look of feeling free and the right to speak my mind…and most of all people, this is America to me.” We are told across the spectrum of the media that we are a country deeply and bitterly divided. That is not my point of view. I see a people coming from so many countries that share fundamental values ​​of freedom, hard work, honesty, and opportunity for all, or, to use another phrase, truth, justice, and the American way. The way we resolve our differences is through the democratic process.

So where is the problem? My wife doesn’t listen to the news these days because she says it’s just noise. She’s right. It’s now that almost “body part” in your pocket. It’s sometimes called a smartphone, but often it’s not. Between Twitter, other social media, and 24/7 cable news, there’s a level of noise that was previously unheard of. The loudest and shrillest noises are overwhelmingly about extreme issues, giving an impression of deep division in the country that is simply not the general sentiment and opinion.

Speaking of noise, let’s start with Roe v. Wade, which has now been overruled and returned the issue of abortion to our democratic process after half a century. Talk about noise. A party that calls itself pro-life says abortion should never or almost never be allowed. The other camp that calls itself pro-choice says abortion should be a choice throughout pregnancy. Now let’s take a step back, calm down and look for a way forward. You can be quite liberal and have trouble finding a right to abortion in our Constitution. Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out before becoming a judge that the majority of women had the right to abortion, and the political process was working on this when this committee of nine in Washington in 1973, with Roe v. Wade, bypassed the process that was working fine.

Now back to the two sides of the argument. Pro-life supporters say they don’t like abortion, but they don’t want it back in the back streets either. Pro-choice supporters want a woman to have the right to an abortion, but most also want a time limit. For example, no Western European country has abortion as a constitutional right, but all allow it, from 12 weeks in Germany to 23 weeks and six days in the UK.

We are a nation of immigrants, coming mostly, but not all, voluntarily to adopt a new set of values ​​and hopefully add something (often food, music or other cultural traditions) from the old country to the common pot. Today, the noise about immigration policy can be deafening. One side is screaming to build a wall, so the other side now in charge has to let them all in.

The road to becoming an American was a bumpy one. We have been through the era of “No Irishman needs to apply”, “His parents are (horrors) Italian”, Asian exclusion, etc. All signers of the Declaration of Independence have British names. Not a single Dutch or German name is there, although there were several here at the time. (As an anecdote, did you know that the Declaration was first published in German? Obviously, Jefferson wrote it in English, but the local German printers obtained the text, translated it and published it. very quickly.)

Our International Business major attracts members of more recent immigrant groups. A number wrote in their reviews that their grandparents benefited from the Reagan amnesty. They’re grateful, but all of them go on to say that we have to control our borders and be a little picky about who we let in. The middle way between “building a wall” and “letting in” will be a continuation of a selfish American tradition. We let countries pay huge sums of money to educate their best and brightest, and then we bring them here.

Varner: Beware of that crystal ball.

Race relations remains a work in progress for us, but once again the noise of extremes gets in the way. You may recall that a few years ago a California professor said she was glad former First Lady Barbara Bush died because she was a racist. Does this woman lead a life full of hate? I really don’t think so. In the past, this graceless comment was something that would be taken out into the staff room to vent and then be forgotten. But today it is going viral on social media and is here forever. The views on race and racism from the far right and left are too chilling to be repeated. Although there is work to be done, we have made tremendous efforts to promote equal opportunity. I know of no other country in the world that has made and supported such commitments.

In addition to modern technology, another thing that makes us feel divided is the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment. In many other countries, you risk jail if you say or write something offensive about the leader. We almost 100% agree that, along with baseball, complaining about the government is a national pastime. In Poland, anyone who claims that some Poles helped the Nazis round up Jews is jailed, and in France Holocaust deniers risk jail time. Courts quickly concluded that a 1980s University of Michigan anti-racism speech code was unconstitutional. It was intended to punish anyone who made offensive statements about someone based on their race, religion, national origin, gender, or Vietnam-era military status. So if you top up Omaha Beach on D-Day, there will be no protection against offensive remarks. The court said that our protection against bad speech is more speech and not censorship. Not so in other places.

We Americans constantly argue about our rights, but Europeans often seem more interested in a peaceful and quiet society. For this peaceful society, an anti-immigrant group from Dresden, my wife’s hometown, Germany, organized a protest. A pro-immigrant group threatened violence, so to protect the city, authorities were able to ban the protest. Ironically, this protest was to take place exactly 50 years after the famous American civil rights protests in Selma, Alabama.

So I remind you: recognize the noise for what it is; study the problems; and remember, for our democratic process, your vote counts. Also, anyone who wants to trade our first amendment for a more European view of free speech?

Carson Varner is a professor of finance, insurance and law at Illinois State University.


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