The Importance of a Robust National Debate

I don’t know about you, but the near constant lecture of citizens by members of the media on the importance of civility in the local and national discourse is wearing thin.

Maybe it’s a sensitive point for me because I write a goofy personal opinion blog focusing on regional politics – and, I admit, I can often resort to salty language or tongue-in-cheek anecdotes to describe my thoughts on the machinations of the local ruling class.

But this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ scolding by print and electronic media outlets in the aftermath of the horrific shooting of a Republican member of Congress and others by a politically obsessed madman in Alexandria, Virginia is, in my view, the epitome of hypocrisy.

In his recent opinion piece, “When political nastiness turns violent,” Pat Rice, the editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, wrote:

“These are strange times. Even in local debates about friction-point issues like beach driving or homelessness, it’s become OK to demonize the opposition. What happened to the notion that there can be more than one reasonable point of view?”

He went on to say that in the age of social media, “Anyone with a laptop and time to kill can spread vicious lies.”

What Mr. Rice failed to mention with sufficient emphasis is that news outlets who buy ink by the barrel – or those with 24-hour televised and online access to millions of Americans – can spread some wildly venomous lies as well.

Earlier this year, the internationally respected public opinion pollster Gallup reported in its annual confidence poll that Americans’ trust in the “establishment” media reached its historical nadir with only 32% of consumers stating they have a “great deal or fair amount of trust” in their news sources.

And this growing distrust wasn’t simply an off-shoot of the still highly contentious 2016 presidential election – cynicism, mistrust and wary skepticism of mass reporting has been free-falling for the past 20-years.

As a result, citizens are increasingly turning to alternative sources of news and opinion, even as the tone of our political discourse continues to reach new lows.

Perhaps there’s a connection?

In fact, to my complete surprise, Barker’s View has – as of today – received 90,279 views in just eighteen months, with hundreds searching and reading these screeds daily.

Clearly, the growing popularity of this site has nothing to do with the richness of my writing – or the depth of my intellectual analysis of the news and newsmakers of the day.

Not by a long shot.

Perhaps blogsites like Barker’s View provide a constructive source for the many in Volusia County who are thirsty for an alternative to the regurgitated corporate/government press releases, marketing spin and carefully crafted sound bites that attempt to paint an artificially bright picture of life on the Fun Coast – something that is completely counter to the abject reality of our day-to-day lives in the Halifax area?

Look, if my posts sometimes seem mean-spirited, even hostile towards our elected elite, it is born from the frustration of watching our system of governance co-opted by uber-wealthy power brokers and their store-bought politicians who consistently ignore the will and needs of their constituents.

Who said We, The People are simply supposed to shut up and quietly take what we are handed in the interest of political courtesy?

I cannot think of anything more profane, perverse or anti-American than that.

In short, I – and others like me – are tired of being lied to, ignored and marginalized by the very people we elected to represent our best interests and serve as stewards of our hard-earned tax dollars.

And we will not remain silent.

In my view, our system of governance thrives and does its best work in an atmosphere of robust and spirited debate of the important issues of the day – in fact, it demands it.

A healthy democracy requires the competition of ideas – something that can only happen in a place that values transparency, personal freedom, and the honest exchange of ideas.

Even when that discussion involves concepts that make self-serving politicians and powerful appointed officials uncomfortable.

I like Pat Rice.

In my view, he is a caring and professional newspaperman who has gone the extra mile to ensure that the News-Journal takes the thoughts and suggestions of the people it serves to heart.

Mr. Rice is also busy juggling the incredibly harsh realities of publishing a daily paper in the digital age – a time when the business of news is almost universally controlled by mega-conglomerates with overt political slants –and the non-stop fight to squeeze a profit is reflected in continuing staff reductions and the painful cost saving measures of out-of-state editing, proofing and printing that is ruining the product.

It’s a hard dollar.  I get it.

Interestingly, in his opinion piece, Mr. Rice found space to take a swipe at the President – agreeing with those who believe “…the nastiness increased with Trump’s presidency.”

I hope Mr. Rice would also agree that the cage match known as The Media vs. Donald J. Trump – a hostile, trench warfare-type battle – has resulted in some of the most sustained and caustic attacks on a sitting president ever, and, conversely, the harshest public rebuke of the national media in our history.

He might also concur that this hyper-incendiary, non-stop narrative naturally results in building anger and frustration.

We live in a time when we all consume the same media silage – much of it originating from dubious “unnamed sources” and “persons close to the Oval Office” – where self-righteous talking heads and so-called “journalists” in the paid employ of national media outlets use the exact same language, words, phrases and terms in what passes for “reportage” in 2017 America.

Now, news outlets on all sides of the political spectrum are pointing fingers of blame, insisting that the lunatic perpetrator of the cowardly ambush of Republican politicians was incited to violence by either the virulent, hateful rhetoric of the left – or the often-divisive public policies of the majority party and the White House.

The fact is, this despicable act of terror was the isolated criminal act of a mentally disturbed misfit who resorted to the last horrific act of a coward.

Fortunately, his deranged personal and political motivations died with him.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop “the mainstream media” from immediately politicizing the tragic event – prompting disgusting tweets and posts on social media implying that the attack was somehow deserved, the expected knee-jerk calls for gun control, and wall-to-wall, hour-after-hour speculative “reporting” that transitioned the matter from criminal incident to political football at light speed.

In my view, the media’s round-the-clock promotion of this weird “see what you did” blame game – and continuing insinuation that the hostile rhetoric of “the left” or “the right” has provoked an atmosphere where political violence is a foregone conclusion – is patently wrong and serves no constructive purpose.

In fact, it undermines our democratic values and traditions more effectively than the one-off act of some sick bastard living out of a van.

Everyone understands that violence and terroristic threats are counter to the collective and enduring character of our nation – and they must never become an accepted part of the national exercise of our differences.

And the madness we witnessed this week should never be allowed to have a chilling effect on the spirited and robust debate of the myriad issues faced by an American citizenry graced with the rights – and responsibilities – of free, open and unfettered speech.



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