Happy New Year! Three things to think about as we head into 2021

Free speech shouldn’t be up for debate, no single person has all the answers, and forgiveness and grace are essential

What to say at the end of a challenging year?

A wannabe pundit like myself has a few choices.  I can share my predictions for 2021 for those who care:  The media will remain obsessed with a former President Trump, the media will continue to ignore incoming President Biden, Big Tech will continue censoring content with even more stringent controls, the media and the experts will not let the pandemic end without a fight, and the V-shaped recovery will fall flat.

But, of course, I don’t have a crystal ball.  No one predicted a massive, globe crushing pandemic a year ago.  It’s a certainty in life that events will occur you didn’t see coming.

I can try to explain why 2021 will likely be a better year than 2020.  The vaccine will be widely distributed, the pandemic will end, the economy will start to recover, and our lives will start getting back to normal, but how do I know?

I could just as equally be a pessimist:  The first half of 2021 is going to be challenging no matter what.

There will be a new President in the White House that is likely to be tested early and often, and not just by the virus.  Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China are all likely to test Biden’s resolve in ways big and small.  Then there’s the question of when the political, media, and establishment class will let the virus caused restrictions end, and what harm will come to the economy in the meantime.

Instead of pontificating, however, I merely want to suggest three things to think about, basic principles that perhaps we can agree on despite our many differences.

Free speech shouldn’t be up for debate

It’s almost hard to believe I feel compelled to write this in 2020 after almost 250 years of free speech enshrined in the first amendment, but this basic principle of our democracy suddenly seems up for debate to all of our detriment.

In Ohio, the legislature recently passed the FORUM Act, Forming Open and Robust University Minds, to protect speech on college campuses.  The act includes four components.  It protects peaceful assemblies, protests, speakers, and displays on campus.  It prohibits “Free Speech Zones” and prohibits the shutting down of events or other expression with a “Heckler’s Veto.”  Finally, it requires colleges and universities to have a free speech policy, and report violations of free speech on campus to the Ohio government.

These principles should not be controversial, and yet the act has its detractors.

Ohio Representative Catherine Ingram of Cincinnati claims it “…could make our campuses less safe by blocking a university’s ability to regulate speech and that could potentially incite violence” and encourage hate speech.  She also says that the law is political and not required, and yet fourteen other states have felt the need to pass similar legislation.

In addition to our universities, speech is under attack every day from social media companies.

Writing on Substack this week, Glenn Greenwald explained, “That Facebook, Google and Twitter are exerting more and more control over our political expression is hardly contestable. What is most remarkable, and alarming, is that they are not so much grabbing these powers as having them foisted on them, by a public — composed primarily of corporate media outlets and U.S. establishment liberals — who believe that the primary problem of social media is not excessive censorship but insufficient censorship.”

Greenwald references a quote by Senator Ed Markey, Democrat from Massachusetts, who told Mark Zuckerberg at a recent hearing:  “The issue is not that the companies before us today is that they’re taking too many posts down. The issue is that they’re leaving too many dangerous posts up.”

To say this is contrary to traditional American values might be the understatement of the year.

George Washington put it boldly, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”  James Madison more subtly warned, “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

We need to remember both and return to our right tradition of open debate without fear of reprisal or censorship.

No single person has all the answers

Doctor Anthony Fauci has become a hero in some circles during the pandemic.  CNN and other mainstream media outlets hang on his every word, especially when it suits their purposes.  His detractors, however, point out the many times he was wrong and the several disturbing instances where he’s changed his story to suit the situation.

Most recently, the good doctor opened up about herd immunity.

“When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” Fauci told the New York Times.  “Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”  He also said, “We need to have some humility here.  We really don’t know what the real number is. I think the real range is somewhere between 70 to 90 percent. But, I’m not going to say 90 percent.”

This nonsense prompts two obvious questions.

First, does anyone know?  Fauci is pitched as the world’s leading expert on the virus, and yet the best he can do is 70 to 90 percent, a massive range representing some 66 million Americans.  Second, was he lying to us earlier or is he lying now?  Perhaps the real number is actually 70 percent, but he’s quoting a higher figure to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

I don’t know, perhaps he doesn’t either, but that’s the point:  No single person has all the answers, and we shouldn’t mindlessly defer to anyone.  Humans are fallible and the experts can be wrong.  The optimal result is almost always arrived at with robust debate, competing approaches, and millions of individuals deciding what is best for them and their family.

One of the most under-reported aspects of Trump’s coronavirus response was the administrations’ reliance on the private sector.

After the CDC embarrassed itself by their abject failure to implement a robust testing strategy, Trump immediately turned to private companies to improve testing capacity, manufacture protective equipment and ventilators, and ultimately produce a vaccine.

The results speak for themselves:  We are now conducting millions of tests per day, we’ve produced so much equipment we are shipping it around the world, and we have a vaccine in record time.

Of course, Trump’s detractors insist that he didn’t personally do any of this, but that’s missing the point.  Instead of expecting the government to do it with him in charge, he wisely relied on the distributed expertise of hundreds of companies pursuing their own innovative ideas.

This clearly wouldn’t have happened with a nationalized approach and Fauci in charge. Therefore, we should all defer to Dr. Fauci’s advice that we need some humility and recognize that arguments from authority ultimately fail almost every single time.

Forgiveness and grace are essential

In a world where San Francisco and other cities are erasing Abraham Lincoln and Twitter is ablaze with the latest person to be cancelled, we should also take a lesson from one of our most under-rated Presidents, Ulysses S. Grant.

During the Civil War, one of Grant’s nicknames was Unconditional Surrender Grant because he refused to accept any terms after his victories. He demanded his conquest be recognized as absolute, but then he did something very different:  He treated the defeated with honor, grace, and ultimately forgiveness.

When Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, effectively ending the war, Grant pardoned all the officers and men, allowed the officers to keep their sidearms, and anyone to keep their horses.  He even fed the defeated soldiers, offering his own rations.

Some would certainly say that the South deserved harsher treatment, and in principle they may be right, but Grant recognized what is often overlooked:  If the South was going to rejoin the Union as Lincoln and Grant believed they must, you have to forgive.  You cannot punish them forever.  There would be no country left.

Grace and forgiveness is the only path forward.

Today, however, many of us seem to think differently, believing that even a flippant statement by a 15-year old girl should ruin the rest of their lives.

About three years ago, Mimi Groves got her driver’s permit and posted a video on Snapchat.  She said, regrettably, “I can drive, n***a.”

According the New York Times, “It later circulated among some students at Heritage High School, which she and Mr. Galligan attended, but did not cause much of a stir.” 

Her nemesis, Mr. Galligan, however, came across the video sometime later and planned his revenge.  “I wanted to get her where she would understand the severity of that word.”  He waited until after she was accepted at college, and then reposted the video online.

The New York Times reports that “The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students and the public.”

Despite ruining Mimi’s life for the foreseeable future, Mr. Galligan is unrepentant.  “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said.

The New York Times obviously supports this point of view, at the least by covering the story in a neutral fashion and further bringing attention to it. Oddly, they note that Mr. Galligan’s own father had used the term before, and yet he didn’t seek revenge or retribution. Instead, Mr. Galligan took him aside and explained his concerns.

Why refuse to try this with Mimi?

In my opinion, Mr. Galligan is a young monster and his actions should be swiftly condemned at every turn, not almost glorified in a leading publication.  No one should think it’s appropriate to try to ruin someone’s life for using one word, once.

This behavior has no place in a free society. He can repent and then be forgiven.  See how that works?

Happy New Year!

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