January 26, 2019

The Rise of the Provocateurs and the Decline of American Discourse

by Hal Gershowitz

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Of Thee I Sing Heading AuthorsThere was a time, it seems so long ago, when we hungered for the words of wise and thoughtful men and women. We congregated in public parks to listen, or hungered to read the words of statesmen and orators chronicled in circulars or newspapers, or gathered around the radio, and, later, television and listened and watched in rapt attention as the great issues of the day were discussed and debated.

And, yes, there were always the petty politicians and the Elmer Gantry-type rabble rousers and fire-and-brimstone sermonizers and a variety of raconteurs who regaled their minions, but serious discussions and debates of the great issues of the day flourished. People, complacent and comfortable were moved from their zones of comfort by the words of fellow Americans like Frederick Douglas, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emma Goldman, Horace Greeley, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and countless others.

William Jennings Bryan mesmerized the Democratic convention in 1869, when he admonished the assembled delegates… “Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic Coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose, the pioneers away out there who rear their children near to nature’s heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds out there, where they have erected schoolhouses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where rest the ashes of their dead – these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country…”  Years later, an uneasy and frightened nation was reassured by a beloved and trusted President who told us “…we have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

I was privileged to be seated with other members of the press at the west portico of the capitol, on that clear, but bitterly cold day, and sat transfixed as the youngest president in American history proclaimed, “…Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty… And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you– ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

But today our national political dialogue, our discourse as a nation, seems bereft of wisdom or, often, even a modicum of serious thought. Voices that hinted, or confirmed, our great potential are largely absent from today’s discourse. They are fading echoes of the past.

One of the most important opportunities a future President has to lay out his or her vision for America is when he or she becomes a candidate and addresses the nation.  When candidate Trump addressed the nation to announce his candidacy he addressed the issue of immigration thusly, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us (sic). They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

That’s what passed for insight from a soon-to-be-president. And the discourse has deteriorated ever since.  And, since the President caved on the wall in order to temporarily end the government shutdown, provocateur Ann Coulter now reminds us at every opportunity, that President Trump has turned out to be, “the greatest wimp since President George H.W. Bush.”

Make no mistake about it, immigration is a serious issue worthy of serious debate and action. The United States needs sound and constructive immigration policy because the United States simply needs immigration. Immigrants to the United States have played a substantial role in our growth and development.  We would, today, have a declining population without immigration and that would equate to declining economic growth and declining prospects for future generations of Americans. Immigration is, and has always been, a vital element of our growth.

Immigration, however, has always been a hot-button issue in our country, and it is not hard to understand why. Workers in marginal jobs understandably feel threatened when there is an infusion of skilled or unskilled labor into the workplace. Historically, however, sound immigration policy and economic growth have always gone hand in hand. Growth creates opportunity and employment always grows with the economy.

The Trumps, Kings (Sen R-Iowa) Coulter’s, Limbaugh’s, Hannity’s, and many others who command so much media time and attention trade in fear; fear of the border, fear of the immigrant, fear of the other, fear of the press, and in doing so they sully public discourse and devalue the gift of free and open debate we enjoy in America.

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16 responses to “The Rise of the Provocateurs and the Decline of American Discourse”

  1. Red Pill Jew says:

    Most Trump supporters are very vocal that they’re not against immigration. They’re against illegal immigration. That used to be patriotic. Now it’s racist. How sad. Also, I see a TREMENDOUS amount of anger from the black community toward illegal immigration because they pay the highest price. Are they racist? Are they debasing the culture?

  2. Robert borns says:

    Until very recent times spoken or written words or thoughts may have reached only hundreds or thousands. Now 24/7 they may reach billions. The great ones like the Dershowitz are still around but the open media forums for the damn fools have grown bigger faster. Should a really stupid Person like Mika b be given a serious voice. Please spare me.

  3. Ben Donenberg says:

    Nostalgia for a discourse on liberty is nice. The goal of protecting liberty seems to remain noble and worth fighting for. There seemed to be a clear consensus or ethos about JFK ‘s notion of liberty. It seemed possible for our nation to be rallied to a page that awakened an awareness that it is possible to transcend the realities of racism and gender inequities and environmental injustices and economic disparities.

    True leaders seem to be able to see what is and what can be and strike a universal chord that resonates with a vision for liberty that is personal and universal. True leaders accept and embrace that responsibility.

    The technologies, strategies and tactics available for employment to pursue protecting liberty have changed. I wonder if we can agree on a common definition of liberty now? I’m not sure. And I’m not sure if all Americans can be united by a common belief that all those seeking liberty at home and far away deserve our protection.

    We have lost what united our states of the union and what unites us.

    A new discussion about the very meaning of liberty would be welcome.

  4. Perry says:

    Sadly as you point out very little statesmanship is evident, and
    also true in this environment of hate filled rhetoric and shrill
    voices reason is all but lost. Good people without rancor
    could debate issues without a press corps eager to tear any
    expression of support for or against an issue with inflammatory criticism.

    Any candidate or office holder today issues political statements not of their true beliefs but to please their constituents.

    America today is bereft of great minds and is filled with
    “Wanna be President” or even Senator or Congressperson.

    There should be a law to have any office holder take a course
    like a College course in both history and Government in order
    to qualify to run for Federal Office.

    I feel the media plays far too large a voice in politics given their
    slanted views rather than their even handed approach to issues. They wish to make news rather than report news.

    Opinion belongs on the Editorial pages.

  5. Susan duman says:

    There are no perfect leaders, as you know so well.
    The ones you mention this morning are great examples of how you can rally a nation.
    I don’t think any of us know when the level of discourse will be elevated to an acceptable level.

    God help our grandchildren!

  6. Chris says:

    RESPECT is gone by the wayside. It’s not in our homes (especially as parents , because the children know nothing when they exit the womb), and not in our freedom of speech outside the home, and not in our government. This hatred name calling and pointing fingers , on both sides, is so destructive. ALL of this disrespect to the point of hatefulness did not just start with this Presidency. I’m very saddened with it’s escalation through the years. It’s very evident even on our prime time World News TV stations and regular TV series for our young people to view. We must be wise as grandparents and infuse RESPECT whenever possible to our grandchildren.

  7. Janice Marcus says:

    Hal, you state that our birth rate is declining. Why? Because the middle class and poor can not afford to get married and have babies. The traditional Male jobs have gone overseas. What is left is the traditional female jobs such as teaching and medical related. And then men are in competition with The constant flow of illegal immigrants who are willing to work for low wages on construction of roads and buildings, which suppresses the natural Capitalist wage increases brought by supply and demand .
    The “elites” have children later as the are busy pursuing their Careers during most of their child bearing age. But they are fine as they have the constant flow of cheap child and home care laborers. So the status quo is working just fine for them.
    So how do we fix this? I think we need to make a climate in the United States that is friendlier for the Poor and middle class AMERICANS to get married and to have children. I think we do that by controlling our borders in all ways. 42% of illegal immigrants overstay their visas, we have to find a solution for that. The rest come over the Southern border. Along with yes, drugs, human trafficking including child sex trafficking. The most disturbing remarks that I hear on the news is that walls don’t work! It takes very little research to find out that’s a lie. It makes me sad when people believe that is true without any curiosity as to why other country’s are building walls and if they are working. The other way to improve things for the middle class and poor, both urban and rural, is to work on the trade agreements. President Trump is trying to do both of those things. I admire him on that issue. He’s trying.
    The other very sad part of all this is how do we improve the circumstances of all the illegals that have been in our country working hard contributing to our society for years? Logically we can’t fix that until we have our southern border secured. Because logically if we make it better for them, which I think we should, It will attract many many many more Illegal immigrants to our country. And the vicious cycle continues.

  8. Red Pill Jew says:

    Janice, AMAZING comment!

    Hal, do you have a link for tha stat? I don’t doubt it, but I wonder about a hidden category of poverty. A whole generation of college educated men and women who are up to their grand children’s eyeballs in debt, and have basically given up on ever having a family. Anecdotally, I know several people who fit that category, but don’t register on the poverty stats.

    Most importantly re illegal immigration..it’s impossible to claim to be for the security and advancement of the African American community, who this country owes an almost permanent debt, while also incentivizing millions of illegal aliens to storm the borders and/or over stay their visas. It is their lives that are the most directly impacted.

    As for the lack of civility in our national discourse, one thing that might be feeding it is a sense of severe dishonesty in our national institutions. It’s apparent to anyone with the power observation that we live in a society that does not apply the law equally to prominent members of the left, while at the same time, using the law to crush all dissent. All the while, our popular culture applauds. As long as that remains the status quo, prepare for more incivilty, and we’ll count ourselves lucky if the incivilty remains in the realm of discourse.

  9. Red Pill Jew says:

    Also, for anyone interested, this article seems relevant.


    Read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:

    If you’re willing to falsely brand a kid as a racist, a Nazi, and a horrible person because he stood there and smiled while some weirdo beat a drum in his face, where do we go from there? Do we declare every person who wore an “I’m With Her” shirt to be a pedophile? If Joe Biden wins the Democratic nomination in 2020, is it acceptable to try to destroy the lives of random liberal teenagers for wearing “I’m With Joe” shirts?

    This is the world liberals are dragging us into with their myopic vision, unquenchable hatred for people who disagree with them, and their raging intolerance. Is this good for the country? No way. Will it produce a better America? No. Is it entirely possible that this sort of thinking could lead to increasing amounts of political violence? Absolutely, because you can’t live in harmony with people who think there’s no punishment too great for people who wear hats designed to support their political opponents. We keep hoping against hope that saner heads will eventually prevail on the Left, but so far voices of sanity are few and far between.

  10. Hal Gershowitz says:

    Corrections and Clarifications:
    Thanks to Charles Shapiro for reminding me that President Kennedy’s inauguration was at the East Portico of the capitol and not the West Portico and, further, that while John F Kennedy was the youngest elected President, Teddy Roosevelt was actually the youngest President when he assumed office following McKinley’s assassination.
    Also, in response to a request from Red Pill Jew the link to the birth rate data I referenced in my response to Mrs. Marcus —

  11. judy says:

    Red Pill Jew said it all for me…

  12. Sheila says:

    Red Pill Jew — your strident and enraged attacks on liberals do nothing but polarize groups of people who might otherwise have something in common – who may want to come together to actually listen to one another — which is the only way to resolve a problem. Your last post is inflammatory and simply wrong – and makes Hals point in this article he has posted. Is it your intent to push people farther away?

  13. Red Pill Jew says:

    Shelia, to clarify, I did not write the the passage in my previous comment. It was a quote from an article that I thought was relevant to the issue Hal was raising.

    With no rage or ill intent toward you or anyone on the left, I believe the article raises a very good question, where do we go as a culture when we’re willing to abuse kids because of the way they look? We now live in a culture where a Che shirt is an avant-garde expression of freedom but a MAGA hat is a sign of racism and the wearer, even school kids, must be destroyed – under completely false pretenses if necessary. That’s sick.

    I do NOT want to push people away. In fact, quite the opposite. With love and hope in my heart, I want reasonable people on the left to confront their radical elements the same way decent people on the right are frequently forced to. Do we not have this in common? I hope we do.

    I want to find common ground with people on the left, but from ANTIFA to Farrakhan to Ilhan Omar, to attacking kids because they fit a targeted profile, there’s a lot of dangerous radicalism that needs to be fearlessly tackled in order to seed the environment for healthy national debate.

    If that’s not convincing enough, let me put in a way that appeals to self interest. If good and decent people on the left want good and decent people on the right to believe them when they warn of Trump’s (or anyone’s) radicalism, it would be helpful if it wasn’t being conveyed by a party that’s willing to embrace blatantly radical elements, while refusing to honestly acknowledge that those elements are radical at all.

    I hope this answers your questions and concerns regarding my comment. I invite you, or anyone, to address the substantive point contained in the quote if you wish. How do we get to a normal place in our national dialogue on any issue, when we’re willing to destroy kids because they support the president of the United States? How did we come to a place where that’s even remotely possible?

    If people on the left really want to find common ground, then as someone who openly identifies as a conservative jew, I’m offering you a sincere suggestion. Please deal with left wing radicalism. Openly acknowledge it and fight against it. The result will be an open ear from me, and others like me, when it comes to the gravity of any issue from the left’s perspective. But if a silent teenager with a MAGA hat is now justifiable cause for a social lynch mob, where do we go from here to find common ground? I have nothing in common with that way of thinking.

  14. Sheila says:

    Red Pill — I don’t want to clutter Hal’s blog with our own discussion, but suffice it to say that your arguments do not contain nuance – they are black and white–a dangerous view of the world. To wit: “This is the world liberals are dragging us into with their myopic vision, unquenchable hatred for people who disagree with them, and their raging intolerance. .” Red Pill, we both know that the world is not all good or all bad — there are extremes on both the left and the right that are equally noxious. Tragically, for our country, this President represents one of those extremes –and has whipped up an environment of hate and fear with ugly invective. The net effect is that he has lowered the bar of discourse such that he has polarized the country and rational discussion and resolution of problems (e.g., immigration) are more difficult to find and to hear.

    As to the specific incident you mention – the kid in the MAGA hat and the Native American –this is the best and most honest account of the event I have read: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/20/us/nathan-phillips-covington.html .

    I will be happy to discuss this in further detail with you privately (in fact, I would like to discuss this with you privately) by phone or email.

  15. Red Pill Jew says:

    Shelia, Again, to be clear, I didn’t write the quote you keep assigning to me. It was an excerpt from an article. I posted it because it makes a point I thought was relevant to the discussion. While, I don’t agree with his blanket framing of all liberals, the author’s larger point is sound.

    I think part of healing our national dialogue is going to have to involve more than just discussions on why everything is Trump’s fault. ANTIFA was around LONG before Trump. Obama hung out with Farrakhan long before Trump. There is a dangerous radicalism that’s been festering on the left for generations and it will have to be addressed in order for progress to be made, preferably without vilifying the people who bravely ask for accountability from all.

    Keep in mind, I’m not asking for less accountability for the right, just equal accountability for the left. I don’t believe this reflects an “enraged” or “dangerous” world view.

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