Dick Sciaroni: A free and unfettered press assures America’s future
In a recent column, Manny Montes indicted both the American mainstream press and academia, attacking their motives and patriotism while decrying the evils of progressive ideology. When thoughtfully examined, his attack is unbridled polemic that seeks a return to the past.
Mr. Montes takes aim at the mainstream media, claiming that it “has abdicated the traditional journalist role at attempts of reporting the news objectively.”
Yet the role of the press is not simply reporting facts. “The Constitution specifically selected the press … to play an important role in the discussion of public affairs. Thus the press serves and was designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by governmental officials and as a constitutionally chosen means for keeping officials elected by the people responsible to all the people whom they were selected to serve.” — Justice Hugo Black in Mills v. Alabama, 384 U.S. 214 (1966).
To prosper, America needs a free press to shine a spotlight on our political leaders. While it must report the facts, the press must also question those facts and the politicians whose goals are oftentimes self-aggrandizement rather than leadership. Without a press unencumbered by attempts to limit its reporting to “the facts” and mistaken accusations of anti-Americanism, the people will not merely be uninformed. They will no longer believe anything but what they want to believe, and unprincipled politicians will exploit that void in spades.
Mr. Montes’ claim that academia provides a “distorted, left-wing, politically correct, anti-American indoctrination,” is polemic, not reasoned argument. While the majority of academics tends to the left, and may sometimes appear to express “politically-correct” views, claiming that academia is “anti-American” is dangerous hyperbole. By characterizing teachers and educators as anti-American, he questions their patriotism, a charge as easily made as it is cheap and tawdry. What does it mean to be a patriot? G.B. Shaw opined that “Patriotism is … a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because [one was] born in it …” Samuel Johnson, a keen observer of the human condition, noted that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Even George Washington warned against the dangers “pretended patriotism.”
Simply put, Mr. Montes confuses patriotism with nationalism. The late Sidney Harris succinctly explained the difference between the two notions: the patriot loves his country for what it does while the nationalist loves his no matter what it does. The former creates a feeling of responsibility while the latter only foments blind arrogance.
Likewise, in his call for common sense — a concept each of us is free to frame as we choose — Mr. Montes complains that government has become “a leviathan that impinges on every facet of our lives … while free enterprise is replaced with the burdens of over taxation and regulation.” He elevates hyperbole over pragmatism while ignoring the obvious: The America of 1789 no longer exists. At the end of the Revolutionary War — when we exchanged the ruling aristocracy residing in Britain for another living in America — there were some 2.7 million people in the newly-liberated colonies. Today there are some 320 million Americans, more than a hundred-fold increase. While the primary structure of our government remains unchanged — a tripartite power-sharing arrangement of Congress, President and Supreme Court — the government established in 1789 has understandably expanded to meet the needs of a 21st century America.
Calls for patience as President Trump pursues policies he claims will “raise all boats” through free (i.e., unregulated) markets must be questioned. His projections of 3 percent growth in GDP, a return of jobs from overseas, and better education through so-called school choice is more than likely wishful thinking. We study the past not merely for its own sake, but to understand the future. A thoroughgoing understanding of economic history is the product of discussion and debate — a dialogue of thesis and antithesis — undertaken in order to reach a consensus to be applied to the future. The vast majority of economists today tell us that President Trump’s economic projections border on the Pollyanna-ish and it will be decades before we might see the hoped-for results of expanded school choice.
In other words, the hope for a better future must be more than a simple wish for vindication of President Trump’s policies, one grounded in history that seeks the prosperity of all participants in that unique experiment begun some 228 years ago — the United States of America.
Dick Sciaroni lives in Grass Valley.
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