Rooms full of racket and non-stop commotion drive a person nuts. You want to clap hands over your ears and flee. Like now — from the rowdiness of what Reader’s Digest used to call — still may for aught I know — “Life in These United States.”
If the American noise level seems unlikely to diminish any time soon, the moment is surely at hand to point out a few evidences of the country’s comparative health and short-term prospects.
I pause. I could go on: instance upon instance of overwrought, media-conditioned jaw-flapping and hand-wringing. Whose total import is frequently hard to bear, psychologically.
The ruination of this and that is a constant sermon in the racket-filled room we call our country: for which condition, as I see it, the President of the United States is only partly to blame, tedious and tiresome as his tweeting had become long before Inauguration Day.
The means of communication, their sheer number and variety, seem to me a major cause of the problem. That which is there to be used will be used. And you can’t guarantee how. The insults and calumniations and blackguardings, the prophecies of doom and ruin take on, through repetition, flesh of their own. If you’ve called Trump a maniac, as did the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg the other day, you’ve got to make sure he stays one, lest some other, lesser prophet grab your robe and run off with it. If you have invested labor and deliberation in the cause of shouting down the tax bill, you have to make sure everyone remembers, and believes in, the disasters you predicted.
Such is free speech — a crowning glory of these United States; without which we’d have to wait for the New York Times to tell us what to think. No constitutional provision requires that free speech be conducted rationally — which, in the days before flag-burnings and knee-takings, was pretty much OK. In our era of endless, angry speech, fueled by more media sources than anyone can count, or would want to, spirits and expectations droop, and the world seems an awful place because… well, because so many communicators say it is. I exercise my own right of free speech to say it’s not. Not yet at least.
William Murchison is at work on a book about freedom and its moral preconditions.
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