A Call for Tolerance: An Analysis of the Degrading State of Effective Political Discourse
The hideous act of vandalism perpetrated by a Yeshiva University student targeting the efforts of the Immigration Ban Awareness Campaign on Wednesday evening sparked distinct outrage within the student body. Although the motives of the perpetrator(s) remain unknown, the emotional message the action sent was crystal clear. Stern College student Rachel Lelonek, who was present while the event unfolded, and even confronted the perpetrator, described her thoughts after the incident:
"To be completely honest, I was in total and utter shock that someone would just tear down the wall while someone - myself - begged him to stop. He ignored me and simply said it was his freedom of expression. The way he crumpled the signs, ripped them up and threw them away, with such disrespect, genuinely left me angry and confused. I also don't understand how someone could receive such joy watching his friend demolish the mural that he would record it and coax him on in the video. It just furthers my frustrations with a highly bigoted community on campus that I wish could be more tolerant."
As someone who also witnessed the vandalism first hand, I would be remiss not to convey the atmosphere felt by me and a few other witnesses to this supreme act of intolerance and fundamental disregard for and misunderstanding of the freedom of expression.
Before I express my main point, it is important to mention that I write this piece as a conservative Republican. I support the security goals (but not necessarily the methods) of the temporary immigration ban from Islamic countries, and certainly do not agree with many of the messages the refugee mural conveyed. I believe that comparing the current Syrian refugee crisis to the nearly international rejection of Jewish refugees during World War II stems from a misunderstanding of history and of current international politics. I am more than glad to engage in political discourse with anyone up for the task. This article however, aims to focus on something that, in my opinion, is far more important, and which has ramifications on the future of human decency in political discourse.
The pressing issue at hand, that I wish to convey, transcends the differences between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, “snowflakes” and “islamophobes.” Wednesday evening’s explosively expedient and rage-filled act of vandalism showcased the worsening symptoms of an aggressively metastasizing cancer characterized by intolerance and a gross disregard for the First Amendment. This growing trend is now commonplace, with groups on either side of the aisle barraging each other with caps-locked tweets and emboldened hashtags. What happened to the civilized political debates which existed in the not so distant past, before the tremendous influx of social media that so many claim exists to unite us? What happened to assertions backed up by facts? Rebuttals bolstered by more facts? Using words instead of breaking windows, burning flags, and tearing down posters containing dissenting opinions? I urge those still reading this article to YouTube the historic presidential debates of Ronald Reagan or JFK, debates replete with constructive political discourse, with both sides genuinely working towards a common goal: the betterment of our nation.
With so many fraught events unfolding around the globe (violent escalations in the Middle East, radical Islamic terrorism largely impacting many parts of the world, and the changing landscape of domestic policies), the entire free world is looking at us, the United States, as a role model and as one who is expected to lead by example. The actions this country should, could, and would take in response to these issues are matters to be discussed and determined using the utilities and freedoms provided by our nation’s constitution. However, the task of leading by example does not stop with our government, especially if you belong to the group that believes that our government is not acting as it should. One of the many duties we possess as citizens of this great nation is to use the freedoms and rights granted to us by this thriving democracy in order to be beacons of tolerance for the rest of the world. Unlike the assertions of some globalists, the United States is not like other free nations. Our nation is unique in its ability to inspire change, whether good or bad, on an international level.
It is for this reason that we, as citizens of the United States, must take care to adequately communicate the importance of tolerance. Both the left and the right need to pause their squabbling for a moment to regroup and to remember what our shared goals are. To our vandal, I do not dare assume the exact motives and ideologies behind your actions. However, one point should be made abundantly clear, to you and those who condone your behavior: if your goal was to delegitimize the views of those against the immigration ban, you failed. You failed to detract from the messages portrayed on that mural and, instead, succeeded to debunk your own opinions. Your actions on Wednesday evening were not categorized by the respectful voice of reason and genuine, constructive dialogue. Instead you showcased a stark inability to initiate necessary and productive discourse. I and many other students who share dissenting opinions, passed that mural numerous times, and despite disagreeing with many of it’s messages, managed to keep our collective cool. Think about the message you are sending to those who do disagree with you. Think about the bad light you are putting on those who do share your opinions. And if all that isn’t enough, think about the message of ill-tolerance you are sending to the nation and to the rest of the world as a Jew representing Yeshiva University.
As I mentioned previously, this far too common ineptitude for seeing the bigger picture combined with a nearly childish degree of intolerance extends beyond the right. To my liberal friends: do you truly and wholeheartedly believe that branding right wing conservatives as “islamophobes” and “bigots” is an effective political strategy? Other then successfully demonizing half of the nation and rendering it irrelevant to your synthetic moral high horse, is there any way in which your destructive rhetoric contributes to the betterment of our society? The left’s name calling is characteristic of the very same intolerance that it accuses the right of possessing towards minorities and other marginalized groups. Two wrongs do not make a right! I speak to everyone when I ask to stop with the ludicrous hashtags, the name calling, and the mind-numbing idiocy!
It is time for Americans on all sides, and especially Yeshiva University students, to unite in a common objective, as the partisan system was designed to facilitate. Disagreement should not be suppressed, but rather should be encouraged when communicated in a civilized and mentchlich way. Don’t tear down the messages of others, and instead put up your own. Perhaps I’m being hilariously naive, but something tells me that if we spend a little more time listening and a little less time trying to delegitimize one another, then perhaps real progress can be achieved within the framework of a more tolerant democracy.