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When is it okay to scream?
There is a great deal of talk these days about lack of civility in the public sphere. Commentators decry harshness of tone. Local newspapers editorialize about it. Utah’s governor has made it his stock-in-trade, go-to theme. Anyone who does not go along is an outlier, a barbarian, quite possibly an insurrectionist.
We who struggle with accepting this universal call for civil passivity find ourselves isolated, or so it would seem. I am one of the outliers, one of those who seems incapable of assuming conscientious objector status in what is undeniably a war for our nation’s soul. Why?
Let me take you back in time to when I was a teenager. One afternoon, as I readied myself for that evening’s swing shift, a knock came at our front door. Though hurried, I threw open the door for who I thought would be a family member from a few doors down. Instead, it was a man, a stranger.
He told me his car had broken down and he needed to use our phone (cell phones were not yet ubiquitous.) I could see his vehicle was a newer model, which gave me pause, and I pushed the door mostly closed before apologetically suggesting he find another phone. I went to close and lock the door but he used his foot to block me and force open the door.
I backed away as he slowly advanced toward me. I had no means for processing what was happening or why I was almost paralyzed. (Years later would I would learn that “freeze” can supplant fight and flight in moments of panic.) I didn’t scream. I didn’t run. I couldn’t even process a defense. I tried reasoning with him that he should leave, threatening to go get my father if he didn’t. He told me he had carefully tracked my family’s daily routine and knew that I was alone. The next few seconds would replay a million times in my mind as both a recurring nightmare and a great blessing.
I ran into my parents’ bedroom and deadbolted the door. To this day, I thank God that my father had taken a rare sick day and was sound asleep. I woke him up and he quickly confronted and expelled the intruder.
Even after the stranger left, I’m not sure I fully internalized what had been about to happen. My near miss became more terrifying much later as I gained life experience and studied criminology. But that evening, I could only tell my coworkers that a strange thing happened.
Even now, I wonder at my predisposition toward politeness and apology to a man who clearly intended me harm. Putting aside my cognitive fog in the moment, I think it is deeply ingrained in most of us to be polite, to avoid conflict, to peacefully resolve disagreements and to lean toward peace and comfort. Many of us are willing to defer and compromise to achieve those goals.
So much has been written and said lately about the terrible state of political discourse and its coarseness, its rudeness, its lack of respect and regard for one another. Blame has been placed on overly zealous beliefs, social media, polarizing algorithms, us vs them-ism, extremism, talk radio, partisan cable news and an overall culture of contempt. The polls are clear – most people long for unity and reduced political tension.
But what happens when the threat is real? In my case years ago, should I have opted for respectful dialogue and to “disagree better” with the would-be attacker in my living room?
So, when is it okay to scream? When is it okay to condemn attacks? When can we call an enemy an enemy? When can we fight back? How long must we maintain our aspirational notions of respectful discourse and pleasant interaction when our adversary clearly intends to destroy our beliefs and way of life?
Is it coincidence that almost all condemnation of harsh political speech is directed at the Right? Or is it really a means of suppressing and chilling the speech of anyone who rejects today’s dominant narrative as “reported” in the media?
Are current calls to detoxify our political discourse aimed at treating symptoms while ignoring the underlying disease?
When many of us resisted government mandates to force-mask our children or experimentally vaccinate our loved ones, I don’t recall a lot of “disagreeing better” coming at us from officialdom or the other side. I do recall having my intelligence and parental fitness questioned by the compliant many and their government lackeys.
When many of us warned that shutdowns would do far more harm than good, I don’t recall the other side “reaching across the aisle” to hold “constructive dialogue.” I do recall increased vitriol and insults.
To me, our current state is unprecedented. Utah Republicans, holding supermajorities in both house and senate, plus the Governor’s office, still have struggled with the basics – to protect children against non-consensual mutilation and sterilization, to protect girls from biological males in sports and shared bathrooms, and to remove pornographic materials from school libraries.
How is this possible?
But now we are to believe that the answer is in greater civility and less division? How do parents “disagree better” with a school superintendent who refuses to remove porn from schools and promotes a principal caught on video implementing Maoist doctrine designed to destroy the bond between parent, child and family?
At what point has one met one’s duty to remain kind and compromising? My faith calls upon me to exercise great tolerance regarding my enemies and obliges me to forgive. But how does that work when evil not only comes to our door, but advances into our living room? When the struggle for me, my family, my community, my nation is existential against a foe that seeks utter annihilation of it all, what does a more civil dialogue sound like?
We all hope for peace and harmony. But changing vocal tones, words and demeanor will not ward off an attack or repel an enemy, and there is no inherent virtue in not designating a foe as such. Calls to love your enemy doesn’t mean he is not still an enemy.
Recently I attended an event where Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody was presented with the “Iron Lady Award.” In her acceptance speech she quoted a favorite poem of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The poem is No Enemies, by Charles Mackay:
You have no enemies, you say?
Alas, my friend, the boast is poor.
He who has mingled in the fray
of duty that the brave endure,
must have made foes.
If you have none, small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip.
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip.
You’ve never turned the wrong to right.
You’ve been a coward in the fight.
There is a long tradition of the language of fighting and war in the political arena. Elected officials are expected to fight for the things their voters believe. Fight for a better economy. Fight for our families. Fight for our freedom. Fight for our rights. Fight for our Country. Fight for our future. And in battle there are allies and enemies.
No doubt there are times and places in which we exercise our better angels to love our enemies, turn a cheek, work for compromise and harmony, disagree better, respect each other, and be kind.
But not when the enemies of faith, family and freedom are at our door, seeking entry into our homes. These enemies do want to destroy America as we know it. And here they come, forcing their way into our living rooms. There is no time for a soft response in the face of pure evil. We must not allow ourselves be shamed or deceived into losing sight of that fact.
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Saturday, February 10, 2024 Midvale Middle School7852 S Pioneer StMidvale, UT 84047 9:00 am Registration10:00 am Meeting Called to Order Agenda Highlights: Caucus Training Election of four members to the Bylaws Committee Officers, Auxiliaries and Committees Reports Bylaws Committee Members must be registered Republicans that live within Salt Lake County. We need leaders in
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2024 Utah Republican Caucus Caucus March 5th Pre-register Skip the long lines. Pre-register, then when you arrive, show your pre-registration on your phone (or print it out) and your valid state photo ID and get credentialed. The Utah Republican Presidential Preference Poll will be held at the 2024 Caucus. This takes the place of a
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