Friday

November 17th, 2017

Insight

Draining the Poison

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published Sept. 29, 2016

The Closing of the American Mouth

I was at O'Hare Airport a few nights ago, waiting to pick up family members returning from out of town. As the cellphone lot at O'Hare is next to one of the runways, I sat there watching one magnificent flying machine after another stream in across the night sky, and then fly directly over my head as they landed.

Incredible.

I then paid attention to hundreds of taxi, limos and shuttles lined up to whisk people to wherever they were going. As I drove home that night, I marveled at the network of highways and surface roads upon which trucks and other transport carried consumer goods hither and yon. Everywhere I looked, I could see restaurants, coffee shops, schools, offices, gas stations, mechanics, malls and stores, churches and hospitals — all while I listened to satellite radio, my children watched a DVD, and my husband downloaded information wirelessly onto his smartphone.

We are living in the most amazing civilization in the history of humanity. And we do not appreciate it. We should be the happiest people in the world. But we are not. We have become embittered and perennially angry.

A couple of years ago, comedian Louis CK was on the Conan O'Brien show, and said, "Everything is amazing, and is nobody is happy." Just this week, I read an article in Hollywood Reporter about multimillion dollar underground bunkers for the uber-rich. The owner of Ultimate Bunker was quoted as saying, "Everyone I talk to thinks we are doomed, no matter who is elected."

This is a deeply distorted worldview, and what is more distressing is how widespread it is. There was a time when Americans of all backgrounds believed in this country, and in the essential goodness of each other — notwithstanding incidents of crime, or past wrongs, or different religious beliefs, or even different political beliefs. What has changed? How did we get here?

An underappreciated cause is the drastic shift on the political left from "liberalism" to "progressivism." Liberalism stood for individual liberties, the Bill of Rights, a belief in the importance of a small government to ensure freedom, and a corresponding admonition towards personal responsibility. Liberalism is, at its core, a fundamentally optimistic outlook. Traditional liberals (however many are left) and today's conservatives hold sacrosanct the view that people have the right to be left alone. When left to their own devices, they will do just fine and figure out solutions when problems arise.

The thousands of human inventions I observed to and from O'Hare Airport earlier this week is proof of the truth of that.



Notwithstanding the word "progress" in its root, progressivism is a mercilessly pessimistic outlook. In this worldview, things are terrible, necessitating an endless expansion of government, unceasing litigation to resolve constant conflict, relentlessly activist judges employed to create ever-expanding rights and redress innumerable offenses, and the proliferation of policies enacted "for our own good."

Progressive politicians, and activists in particular, must find endless wrongs to be righted in order to justify their own existences. Humanity being what it is, it is always possible to find wrongdoers. But it is never enough to punish one wrongdoer; it is vital to create classes of wrongdoers, who inflict harm on countless others. Progressives want policies, not punishment.

Therefore, it is not enough to find wrongful conduct; the progressive must root out impermissible thoughts and attitudes. Since these are hard to pinpoint, it becomes guilt by association. Thus do we see the sweeping accusations that "business is greedy," "whites are racist," "men are rapists," "Christians are bigots" or "police are killers." Absolution comes only by admission of guilt. Object to these characterizations? That's just proof of your guilt — or worse — your privilege .



A movement that professes to promote diversity thus leaves everyone in one of two camps: the wronged or the wrongdoers. People begin viewing each other with suspicion, fear, anger and resentment.

This isn't progress; it's poison. And it has made the body politic very sick, indeed.

As I've written before, it is always possible to find the good in people and reasons to be positive about our society. Social media, filled though it may be with garbage and mindless drivel, is also a limitless source of stories of people's kindnesses. By way of example, millions of people shared video from the Miami Marlins' first game since the death of teammate Jose Martinez. The entire team wore jerseys with Martinez's name and number. Dee Gordon hit his first home run of the season, and gestured in tribute. Gordon's tears and the conduct of all of Martinez' teammates in the dugout were inspirational. That is the kind of conduct we should be pointing out to each other.

It is too late in this presidential election to have different candidates. But we, as people, should be demanding that our political leaders see the best in all of us.

The health of the nation depends upon it.

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.

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