A Failure to Listen

Terry Schwadron
5 min readDec 8, 2023

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Terry H. Schwadron

Dec. 8, 2023

Why is reaction on public issues so limited to one-way or the other? Why isn’t our intake of news and information producing more reactions that prompt us to say “and” rather than “or,” even if they draw from another point of view?

The week’s news has brought us new video, testimony, and documentation of organized rapes as a weapon for the Hamas militants who invaded Israel on Oct. 7 to torture, kidnap, and kill 1,400 Israelis. Surely, Israel has promoted dissemination of those reports that spell out certain terror to retain support for its own heavy-handed military retaliation in Gaza, but who would not be appalled? What possibly can be gained by remaining choosing to remain silent about such atrocities?

At the same time, why is it not possible to see that the heavy bombing and artillery attacks on the ever-moving civilian areas where Hamas fighters also still hide are creating enormous humanitarian concerns in areas where civilians have no place to escape, causing widespread hunger and homelessness, and birthing exactly the kind of generational hatred that will resound into future violence?

Why can’t both things be true at once? Indeed, what “solutions” are ever possible by denying only what one side or the other has wrought.

The Israel-Palestinian conflict is a knot of such mostly-truths that are simultaneously helping and hurting understanding about long-term issues of statehood, abandonment, land rights, personal and national security, the effects of occupation, the immediacy of terrorist attacks and the effects felt through only lightly restrained retaliation. Neither Israelis and Palestinians themselves can produce majority-supported governments; expecting that global reactions will be universal and unquestioning seems ludicrous.

Accepting just some truths means using information as propaganda.

Saying One Thing, Meaning Another

Our public politics — domestic and international — are requiring all-or-nothing backing that seems increasingly unsupportable as we see the effects of war or other types of conflict or as we learn more about the details of election denial schemes that would undercut our own democracy.

If I don’t accept everything that our own government says or does, why would I possibly be expected to align totally with everything coming out of the mouths of Israeli or Palestinian leaders?

It is exactly that type of required total buy-in that leads the craziest among us to strike out in profane or violent ways against individuals or institutions with anti-Jew or anti-Muslim hate, to substitute blanket frustration with terrorists who would kidnap babies and grandmothers as trade bait or human shields with civilians who happen to live in a place.

The absurdity of witnessing Republican Congress members — and later the White House — this week criticizing college presidents for veering from yes/no answers to explain “allowing” people to express their feelings about the Middle East was a display in frustration over why these same lawmakers aren’t helping to invite safer alternatives for debate with plenty of fact at hand. Campuses are supposed to be places for debate, but verbal debate that stops well short of making Jews or Muslims or other groups feel under personal attack. While I would not support calls for intifada and “genocide,” as noted from some, I would support structured discussions about possibilities for a separate state, as apparently came about at Dartmouth; while I would support retribution for atrocities, I would not support targeting individuals.

But it’s not just about Israel and Hamas.

This week Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson explained that the delay in his promised release of thousands of hours of Capitol video files on Jan. 6, 2021, was because House censors need to blur the faces of those who were breaking into the Capitol, to stop any Justice Department arrests for illegal activity or private retribution.

What?

Unless he was trying to blur the storyline of who and why there was an insurrection attempt by supporters of Donald Trump, an organized set of attacks aimed at illegally interrupting the certification of election results, the whole point of the public release of these videos was supposed transparency. We must conclude that Johnson, like Kevin McCarthy before him, simply wants to encourage some other kind of conspiracy to explain away Jan. 6; we’re left trying to understand that the Speaker, third in line to the presidency, doesn’t believe in enforcing federal law.

Again, we’re stuck with weird censorship in the hypocritical name of transparency all in the propagandistic end of winning an information war, not in justice. Why does he believe that we cannot handle the idea that the Capitol protests got out of control, killing a handful and injuring dozens, and putting the lawmakers in his House at risk?

Sowing Confusion by Insistence

The same dilemma is true for the conflicting reports from migrants and law enforcement at the border about why there is a surge in crossing attempts and what to do about it. Basic beliefs about America and the immigrant experience colors all discussion about a highly complicated and nuanced set of problems with simplistic answers.

It should be true that there are a lot of migrants at the border and that the combination of law, enforcement, and practical arrangements are inadequate to the task of making it all more orderly. But Republican demands to use the immigration question as an excuse not to deal directly with our international commitments to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan seems nuts.

Substitute Covid and public health, education and what books are acceptable in the local lIbrary, availability of housing, tax policy, or economics and you’ll witness much of the same. All is being seen through a political lens that, in turn, is the reflection of what media outlets are feeding an American public that is reporting what it wants to hear.

In place of finding the one true way, perhaps we would find ourselves in better shape to acknowledge that several things can be true at the same time.

Then we can debate what to do about it.

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