WASHINGTON, June 4, 2017 ⏤ A critical conversation among the great debates Americans are having is missing: What are the obligations and responsibilities that come with discussing hot topic issues – abortion, immigration, political ideology, or even engaging in the climate debate?
Is there some minimum level of emotional and social maturity necessary, but grossly lacking, in the conversations Americans are having?
America provides its citizenry with some of the broadest rights of speech and expression of any other country. And those rights give us, citizens, media, and entertainers, immense power. But as Ben Parker, Spiderman’s uncle observed, with great power comes great responsibility.
All people who wish to call America home, be they born here, or immigrants, be they Muslim, Christian, Hindu or atheist, have the responsibility to respect and uphold America’s legal institutions, laws, and social contracts. Immigrants to this country, be they from Latin America, the Middle East or Europe, who wish to claim this country as home, have a responsibility to learn English, know and follow our laws and adopt our societal guidelines.
We believe and hold firmly, for example, that whether a person is gay or straight, male or female or even gender fluid, everyone owes their fellow citizens the freedom to believe and live as they wish – but only within the limits imposed by the rights of others to live according to their beliefs.
Which means, your rights stop when they impinge on my rights.
Simply put you have the right to live within your sexual or political identity, but that right stops at insisting that I also live within your sexual or political identity.
So we have rights and we have responsibilities. But we can only keep the rights as long as we behave like grownups and accept the responsibilities that come with the freedom to speak our minds, follow our own beliefs, to be secure in our property and persons, and to secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity.
To be able to secure and protect our rights, we must demand restraint from ourselves and others. But not everything that we should refrain from doing, or saying, is forbidden or illegal. And that is the wall that bad actors hide behind to defend their actions.
The media and entertainment realm remind us of this daily. Snoop Dogg’s video showing a gun pointed at the President’s head. Madonna threatening to blow up the White House. Robert De Niro saying he wanted to punch the President in the face.
None of these things are illegal because with our right to have Freedom of Speech comes the freedom to say horrible things to each other. But if we indulge indiscriminately in that freedom, our society, as we are watching now, will self-destruct in violent protests that seem to be moving us toward yet another American civil war.
It is time to recognize that because something is a “right” the indiscriminate employment of those rights can also be morally reprehensible. Kathy Griffin’s latest stunt is a bold reminder of that moral reprehensibility. There is a difference between what we can do and what we should do.
Matthew 7:12 tells us “In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the prophets.”
We are living in a social and mainstream partisan media cyclone where too often passion overtakes reason. And when reason isn’t firmly in charge, we behave like children. We talk like children, make statements like children.
John Kerry saying that backing out of the Paris Climate Accord would cause more children to die of asthma is a perfect example of saying what we want, and not being fully truthful. Asthma triggers are airborne substances, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste first and foremost.
And while research is trying to connect higher C02 emissions with higher increases in asthma it is because they trigger more pollen and other natural airborne emissions. Research shows that higher instances of asthma in China are triggered by air pollution and higher C02 emissions and overpopulation of smaller areas. Comparing air quality in the U.S. and China is like comparing apples to oranges. And John Kerry’s comments were not made by an adult, but a child who wants to create fear and controversy.
Democracy and civic life are the activities of adults.
Social responsibility means we do not kill our enemies in effigy, or bath a religious icon in urine and call it acceptable artistic expression. We do not threaten the life of the President of the United States and claim it as acceptable freedom of speech. We do not attack a child, like Barron Trump, because we disagree with his parent’s politics.
Because with our rights comes responsibility, and threats and incitement to violence are irresponsible, even if they skate along the edge of legality.
Kathy Griffin’s press conference claiming victim status is faker than her hair color. Griffin felt that by acting irresponsibly as indicated by the pre-photo shoot video coverage, she could claim yet another fifteen minutes of fame.
From Rosie O’Donnell jumping to attack 11-year-old Barron Trump to Steven Colbert mimicking a gay sex act when disparaging the President to BLM and Resist protestors burning cars, breaking windows and shutting down traffic, everyone needs to take responsibility for their actions.
How can we not be horrified by Professor Eric Clanton who teaches “ethics” at Diablo Valley College, UC Berkley allegedly wielding a bike lock to hit Trump supporters in the head? Clanton, 28, was charged with four counts of felony assault with enhancements alleging that he caused great bodily injury.
He also was charged with wearing a mask during the commission of a crime, a misdemeanor, jailed with a $200,000 bond, during the April protests at Civic Center Park at U.C. Berkley. Professor Clanton proves that children have taken over the teaching of our children. And that is recipe for disaster.
Now Kathy Griffin is seeing her already questionable career take a further nosedive, not because of what she did, but because of how she tried to become the victim instead of accepting responsibility and then moving on.
Or even better, she could have been an adult and thought about her actions, and the reactions they would create before she opened her mouth, or picked up the severed head.
So when the chronological adults in the room act like emotional children, who are our children supposed to emulate?
The children at Evergreen who refused a photo with or the Yale students who walked out on, V.P. Pence are what you get when you don’t show young adults how to be young adults, and worse when you allow young adults to remain children. Instead of personal responsibility and maturity, we have taught our young adults that it is, after all, a scary and dangerous world, and the best response to our fears is with screams, tantrums, and threats.
So we get hysteria over President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and the substitution of vapors for reason. American politics has become a food fight between the Cripps and the Bloods, one were the immature act of walking out on a vice president is applauded by some as an act of maturity.
Humans aren’t intrinsically rational creatures, but never have our noses been so thoroughly rubbed into that fact as they are now.
There is some light in the collective outrage over Griffin’s crude and ugly picture that is almost surprising; Americans seem inured to that kind of thing, but here they are agreeing that Griffin, whose only claim to fame is going too far, went too far.
The entire episode is a hopeful sign: There are still lines we collectively won’t cross.
(Senior Editor James Picht contributed to this commentary)