21 January 2017

The Epidemic of Claims of Illegitimacy

Sub Tuum. 

America is faced with an epidemic. It is an epidemic that pertains to the hearts of the people. It is an epidemic that causes division, acrimony, and disharmony where such things need not exist. Let us begin with an example. 

Today the United States inaugurated its new President. The festivities of that occasion are juxtaposed with the violent riots taking place in Washington, D.C., in opposition to Donald Trump's Presidency. While many sing the praises of the new President, many others call him illegitimate. In fact, the past four Presidents, including Mr. Trump, have been called illegitimate by large portions of the American citizenry. Messrs. Obama, Bush (the younger), and Clinton were all called illegitimate. Mr. Clinton was even impeached, though not successfully convicted in the subsequent trial in the U.S. Senate. The Clinton Presidency was during the 1990s. This trend of calling Presidents with whom one disagrees illegitimate (that is, "not the real President") is now almost three decades. The Millennial generations knows nothing different. Now, there is nothing wrong with having standards or standing on principle. However, the mere fact of disagreement - even serious disagreement - does not by itself make someone else illegitimate. In fact, even believing a President is illegitimate does not by itself render that President illegitimate. And so the United States becomes polarized - more and more polarized. 

A further and even more serious problem with this is that it is not limited to the Presidency or even political figures. It should be no surprise that this trend has pervaded society in general as the practice of calling others with whom we disagree "illegitimate" becomes engrained in our psyches. It also compartmentalizes the population, for it is a logical sequitur that not only those with differing points of view will be deemed illegitimate, but those who support the so-called "illegitimate" person. Now instead of respecting those who support the President (choose any of the last four), one begins to view them as supporters of an official one has deemed "illegitimate." But again, this is not limited to Presidents or politicians. No one is immune. Everyone is a potential target of the limitless fury of the small-minded and angry who build themselves up by tearing down others. 

This is a sickness. It has reached epidemic proportions, and it is dangerous if a society is to be free. There are always absolutes or semi-absolutes in any society. The Church has dogma and doctrine. Nations have laws. Even clubs have rules. Beyond such infrastructural matters, if a society is to be free, then people may have divergent viewpoints and even mutually-exclusive viewpoints. One need not associate with those with whom one disagrees if that is one's choice. Yet, to call them "illegitimate," particularly with the acrimony seen in past decades, is to challenge the very nature of free thought. It is to admit a great weakness in which one can only hold a certain point of view by destroying all other points of view. That belies either a significant tenuousness of opinion or a haughty arrogance that forces all others to think in accord. 

The fact is that one can indeed remain strong in one's opinions while permitting even those with divergent opinions to think as they choose. It may not be easy, but it is possible. Again, their are certainly absolutes that exist, which are either universal (e.g., matters of faith) or that apply in specific settings and circumstances (e.g., military doctrine). So, where there is room for opinion, which includes the very serious and relevant issue of the type of society in which we wish to live, and which also includes many more mundane matters, disagreement is not only possible, it is likely. Those who hold divergent opinions in such matters are not by that very fact "illegitimate." 

The fundamental cause is likely a lack of respect in society for others. It started small and has grown over the years as those on different sides of issues have traded blows back and forth. The key is to maintain an open mind. One does not have to abandon one's most sacred beliefs to have an open mind. One does not even have to give up one's opinions to have an open mind. What is necessary, though, is to try to see the point of view of others through their lens rather than the lens that we use to see the world. To do that, one must first determine just what one's own lens is. This is not easy. It is in fact far easier to call others illegitimate because one disagrees with them. The easy path leads to ever-increasing tension and distress. The path to healing and brotherhood and unity requires hard work and dedication. It is ultimately the best path - but I won't call you illegitimate if you disagree with me on that.