It seems like every time America experiences a traumatic incident such as the shootings in South Carolina, every time there is an important political decision to be made, every time we face any difficult situation of any sort there is one constant, an increasingly predictable response on the part of our leaders and their supporters. The President has called for them, the press demands them, politicians propose them. We bloggers fancy that we engage in them, they’re called ‘national discussions’, and the concept is so overused as to be almost meaningless.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have national discussions, it’s just that the phrase itself has become so tired as to become meaningless. Sometimes it is a subtle sign of in intellectually impoverished argument. If you can’t prove your point, call for a discussion on it. Pundits and politicians sometimes call for them as a substitute for real action, as if a problem could just be talked to death. We were supposed to have a ‘national discussion’ about gun control after the massacre in Charleston, race relations after Ferguson, and so on.
What if I wanted to have a national discussion on climate change? If my position is that the whole thing is an overblown scare campaign meant as an excuse to redistribute wealth, will I be engaged in a substantive way, or will I be called a “Flat-earther” and roundly condemned. What kind of discussion is that? If in the interest of engaging in a national discussion on gay marriage I were to simply suggest that such a thing at very least would require us to alter our definition of the term, even if I don’t stake a position on its actual morality, I’d almost certainly be called a bigot or homophobe.
And just how do we have them? Blogs? Social media? Can a meaningful conversation be held in 150 character increments? How much is actual discussion and how much of it is just collective monologue. Even this essay is a monologue, until someone comments on it.
Much preferable in my opinion would be to bring back national declarations. Imagine a president or other leader truly speaking on our behalf. It’s been done before; Churchill throughout WWII, Kennedy stating we would land a man on the moon within a decade, Dr. Martin Luther KIng’s “I have a dream” speech. Imagine an American president declaring we will send astronauts to Mars within the next fifteen years. What if our president were to declare that ISIS would be defeated before he leaves office, whatever it took. How great would it be to hear Israel would be supported in plain, unequivocal, non-apologetic language. Even Khrushchev said “we will bury you”. thankfully he was wrong, but I bet he didn’t call for a national discussion. Reagan didn’t call for a national dialogue on the merits of the Iron Curtin, he called instead for Mr. Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall!” If your principles are clear and your values not muddled, you can say that sort of thing.
We can have a dialogue on some things. Sometimes meaningful debate is the only way to come upon a solution, our Constitution was the subject to great debate. On some issues though, we ought to be able to easily forego discussion and resolve to speak with one voice. We don’t need to discuss the merits of banishing ISIS from the earth, we just need to decide to do it. When our leaders do call for a national discussion on something, they should be prepared to listen to the other side and not attempt to marginalize them. Don’t call for discussion when you really mean monologue. Don’t confuse talk for real action.
That’s my opinion, OK go ahead and discuss!