TERRE HAUTE — This may sound odd coming from a newspaper columnist, but I’m beginning to tire of Opinion USA.
In fact, I keep thinking opinions these days are like German Marks during the Weimar Republic: Billions upon billions are in circulation, but they’re worth next-to-nothing. And, yes, I include mine in the count.
When is the last time someone’s opinion changed your mind?
How often do you hear or read an opinion that is the opposite of yours and spend a few minutes considering its merits?
How often, instead, do you see the headline of a column or letter to the editor, or note the identifying label beneath a TV talking head, and either think, “Right on!” or call that person a nasty name?
Have you ever read or heard an opinion that, after you’ve considered it, you concluded: “I don’t agree with that, but it’s a heck of a well-argued point”?
No, most of us are too busy shouting at each other and impugning one another’s character based on political affiliation, preferred economic system or church of choice. In a time of unprecedented communication capabilities, we seem as a nation to be employing the sort of societal thought processes that made the Salem witch trials such a bright chapter in American history.
I think the tipping point for me was a story I read recently about a self-proclaimed “conservative” organization that has issued a nationwide call for people to send packages of actual garbage to the Fox News pundit, Glenn Beck.
In the words of their leader, a Californian named Mark Dice, “Glenn Beck repeatedly attacks 9/11 Truthers (people who believe the government is covering up evidence surrounding the September 11th attacks or allowed the attacks to happen on purpose as a pretext for war).” The parenthesis are Dice’s.
Now, for anyone who does not know my particular place on the political spectrum, make no mistake, I am no Beckian. His assumptions and pronouncements on many topics, not just 9/11 Truthers, are often so far out, they seem to be coming to him from deep space via tin foil helmet.
In an e-mailed news release, Dice said Beck “repeatedly slandered 9/11 Truthers by saying that the holocaust museum shooter was a hero to us when we despise violence, he has said that we’re the kind of group a Timothy McVeigh would come from … he hates 9/11 victims families and wanted them to shut up when they wanted an investigation.”
Yes, well, imagine how the president felt when Beck declared that Barack Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”
But a call for American citizens to send garbage to another citizen through the U.S. mail? That is about as conservative as it is sophisticated.
“We’re sending Glenn Beck some symbols of what he is,” said Dice’s e-mail, adding that the mailed garbage can be thought of as “‘decorations’ for Glenn’s office.”
Oh, my. People who think of themselves as conservatives are attacking a self-proclaimed conservative who makes his living attacking people who think of themselves as liberals, moderates and (to him) deficient conservatives, all of whom — by the rules of the opinion game — perpetually counter-attack him.
Talk about your circular firing squad.
Here’s another metaphor: Opinion USA, whether professional or amateur, has become a crowded, but really bad piano bar.
The guy at the keyboard — i.e., traditional institutions of civilization, including government, organized religion and mass media — has either lost control of the proceedings or just doesn’t care anymore. Meanwhile, the customer-singers — we opinionated, but not necessarily educated citizens — have turned into divas and divos, interested in nobody’s turn at the microphone but our own.
A great piano bar does not require a lot of elements, but those that are necessary must be top quality.
Number One is the perfect host, a piano player who knows and loves a wide variety of music, is skilled enough to transpose keys to accommodate singers of diverse range and talent, and who genuinely cares about the community he or she creates and nurtures around that fun, funky, musical bar.
The second crucial element is an open, supportive clientele, people who also know and love music, like to perform a song outside the shower stall, but totally buy into the concept of a stage shared with strangers or slight acquaintances.
If only one of these singers is a non-team-playing prima donna — someone who dismisses other singers’ musical choices or abilities and despises the efforts of the Dolly Parton clone or the Tony Bennett wannabe — those selfish, judgmental vibes can bring down the whole room.
At a great piano bar, one person can belt out “The Music of the Night,” another can channel Al Green for “Let’s Stay Together,” another can twang through “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and everyone else can think, “I would never sing that,” but each song always ends with a hearty — and heartfelt — round of applause.
You came, you sang, you deserve a hand from people who actually listened to your song.
With that kind of model, Opinion USA might one day again be a place worth frequenting. At least no one would show up there with a package of garbage for mailing.
By the way, that’ll be 3 million Marks.
Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TERRE HAUTE — This may sound odd coming from a newspaper columnist, but I’m beginning to tire of Opinion USA.
- Stephanie Salter
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