By: Scott Jennings
Former U.S. Attorney and liberal activist Preet Bharara caught my eye with a tweet last week: “What if Jeff Bezos bought Twitter with the change in his pocket and shut Trump’s account?”
His wish to censor a political opponent (in this case a U.S. president who fired him) was but the latest example of the state of America’s civil discourse.
It is on life support.
Preet’s tweet followed a January onslaught from liberal activists who demanded Twitter block the president’s access. Thankfully, Twitter didn’t cave to the mob, and Preet’s deepest wish — that Republicans he hates be banned from the public square — will go unfulfilled for at least a little while longer.
These troubling tantrums are the latest warning signs that we have forgotten how to be loyal in opposition to one another. Calling for your opponent’s silence is disloyal — to them, and to America’s founding ideals.
Our nation isn’t designed for one group to speak and others to be silenced. Our system demands that we speak to one another, to push and to pull each other, to balance each other. The American experiment requires civil discourse as the fuel for its democratic engine.
Sadly, there are those who wish to replace that fuel with something else, something corrosive. Winning arguments went out the window a long time ago. Now political actors seek to win space. To occupy territory. All of it. No opponent can be allowed to even peer into the public square, lest he be rhetorically stoned.
This is mob rule, where wild-eyed feeding frenzies destroy the marketplace of ideas and the bloodthirsty are never satisfied.
We live in a dangerous age. Will we continue down this dark path, where the spirits of Jefferson and Madison and Hamilton dare not haunt? Or will we jerk the wheel toward free speech, civil discourse and the idea that we are all in this together?
Failure to course correct means our enemies — our real enemies — win. We are divided against ourselves, convinced the most lethal adversary lives in a rural town. Or urban. Or has a college degree. Or goes to church. Or doesn’t.
These are not our enemies. This is our family, our American cousins, connected by generations who spilled blood to preserve a nation where the first right is the right to speak.
The real enemies are out there. Outside. Putin. Radical Islam. Communists. Authoritarians who seek a world without free speech. They laugh when we divide and silence one another because it means they are winning.
We cannot let them win. We gain nothing if we silence each other; only the world loses if America’s sacred torch of freedom, guaranteed here for over 200 years, goes out.
Where are we going? Straight to hell if we cannot learn to love and respect one another. As Americans. As free people. If all we ever share is a responsibility to water the tree of liberty, that must be enough to keep us loyal to one another. If I am banished, or if you are, then we miss our shift and the tree withers and dies.
The time has come for us to unite. Who will show leadership? It cannot just be one man or woman. Or one writer, pundit or politician.
This dangerous age requires leadership from every American. Those with and without powerful megaphones. We are frightfully close to the brink of an unrecognizable America, where paralyzing rancor and division become the rule, not the exception. I choose to believe our institutions and people are stronger than anyone fever or mob, but we must find a way through this tired morass where every news cycle brings a new outrage, a new mob and a reboot of what came before.
Neither side is off the hook. We all do it, and we all must stop.
What will you do to foster civil discourse? Will you engage your neighbor and love him as a fellow American? Will you show loyalty to those you oppose politically because they are part of your American family?
Our enemies fear a united American front. Only we — the people — can strike that fear. Speak freely and embrace the speech of others. Wish not for our government’s failure, but for its success no matter who is in charge.
Don’t become part of the mob. Fight it, fiercely, and show loyalty to free speech and to each other. There is no other way for us to improve our national condition.
Scott Jennings is a CNN Contributor and Partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ScottJenningsKY on Twitter. Jennings is currently a Resident Fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.