It’s Just My Opinion
Terry H. Schwadron
April 17, 2019
Our society has another fundamental problem: We can’t distinguish private opinions from you-should-do-this-too statements.
It’s one thing to hold or develop a strong opinion on some social question, but quite another to present your own opinion as public policy. We have a president who stomps on the difference, any number of political leaders on all sides who cannot seem to understand these are disparate ends, and loads of individuals who don’t care that there is a difference.
After all, it wasn’t until a lot of individual people decided that they did not want secondary cigarette smoke in their face that government finally entered with regulations for restaurants and bars that already had adopted private sets of rules without the help of government.
Of course, we all understand that President Trump cannot distinguish his daily Twitter hiccup as a statement of federal policy. If he is upset about the traffic along the southern border, we suddenly have a contentious public policy to distribute migrants by the thousands into so-called sanctuary cities, or a campaign to undercut Obamacare, or ridicule for wind farms.
Our failure as a society to be able to deal with clearly misunderstood statements by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-MN, whose garbled words about 9/11 raised the hackles of those who demand reverence for the memorials from the attack, is a fine example of this divide. It would be one thing for Omar to have a personal opinion against a more mainstream view, but her out-loud statement appeared to make it more, a statement about needed ethnic balance that dismissed the memorial. We can’t seem to set this to-do to the side and move on.
It was Omar who recently got herself into political trouble for personal opinions about too much congressional reliance on Israel lobby members, a statement that, in translation across endless repetition, was seen as anti-Semitic. Such a shiny object draws instant and superficial reaction from a super-defensive President Trump, who instantly and repeatedly overstates the original statement, adds anti-Muslim dressing and turns out the kind of poorly stated public tweet that seems to say Americans need to be anti-Muslim by policies affecting travel, immigration and inclusion. In any event, the president does not own any connection between his own statements and the increase of death threats against Omar.
She was wrong to use stupid language; he is wrong to assure that he lowers the general respect for the White House for purely political aims.
Indeed, to listen to the president is to believe that personal enmity is the order of the day. Blame is required. Only my opinions matter.
It is only the latest restatement of a disturbing theme about America today: We each want to see a government do exactly what we as individuals expect, and anything less or difference is to invite the wrath of expulsion or public humiliation.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s criticism for Vice President Mike Pence’s endorsement of many anti-gay, anti-transgender campaigns is a useful measure. It is clear that Mayor Pete is offering his personal opinion, not a policy; Pence has responded as if he is being criticized for believing in Christian traditions. It’s just weird to listen to their back and forth. What’s wrong with a little personal disagreement; the issue at the end of the day is what the laws uphold.
Any discussion about abortion policy these days reflects exactly this problem. For more and more state legislators to pass clearly unconstitutional bills so limiting abortion procedures in hopes that one of these cases will become the vehicle for a newly conservative-majority Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade is a clear expression of policy substituting for personal opinion.
If we really cared about spreading anti-abortion fervor, for example, the effort would be to individuals across the country to rethink their own actions, to consider their own moral, religious, economic or other factors (incidentally, abortions across the country are declining, as, generally, is teen pregnancy) rather than turn personal opinion into laws that are too-blunt instruments. Just because I am anti-abortion does not translate into every law in the country should be anti-abortion.
Just because you or I think that immigration should be harder, easier, more logical doesn’t mean that failing to follow U.S. asylum laws is good policy. Just because you don’t believe in Climate Change does not mean our laws should ignore carbon emissions and actually increase fuel consumption regulations for new cars.
The point is that each of us has tons of opinions. That does not make them good policy for a complex United States.