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Roemer: Disagreement is fine. Violence? Telling others how to think? Not acceptable. | COMMENTARY

Before the recent election, Henry Reiff, a retired McDaniel College professor, was allegedly attacked by a man who took exception to Reiff holding a Biden-Harris campaign flag while walking home from a political rally. Apparently, for the attacker, expressing a political point of view different than his own was sufficient reason to punch someone in the face.

I don’t know Reiff, but he has been kind enough to engage with me through email about issues raised in columns he writes periodically for the Times. He and I disagree about many things. So what?

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I find him a thoughtful man, who by all accounts is a decent person concerned for the well-being of others. When did it become necessary for two people to agree with each other politically in order to be friendly. It makes me sick to think a person believed he had the right to attack. Reiff because he backed a different candidate for president.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I used to think Patrick Henry said this. Then I read it may actually be a quote by Voltaire. Maybe it was someone else, maybe multiple people said it, I don’t know, but I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it used to be a hallmark of our democracy.

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We all have the right to think and say what we want. That belief is central to our very way of life. No one, not the government or any group or individual has the right to coerce others to adopt a point of view. Have we reached a point in our political discourse where we believe we do have this right? That we even have the right to use physical violence against those with whom we disagree? Apparently there are those who think so.

I don’t like the cancel culture, I don’t like the rigidity of thought which has taken over our college campuses, and I don’t like it when people are bullied or pressured into accepting someone else’s opinion of what’s right and wrong. I also don’t like Facebook, Twitter and Google making decisions about what I can read and what I can’t. Do you?

Apparently, there is no principle anymore greater than what is politically expedient at the moment.

We do ourselves a great disservice when we listen only to those with whom we already agree, but while I consider being exposed to a wide variety of ideas generally a good thing, demanding everyone or anyone accept my point of view as the right one is a different matter. So is arranging for people to be exposed only to my point of view through any form of censorship. I often don’t agree with the ideas espoused by Dr. Reiff, but I will defend his right to espouse them even if it means someone punches me in the face.

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The news media is one of the root causes for the problems we are experiencing today. Cable news outlets are programmed to appeal to the people who already share the political positions generally proffered by those networks. Fox News chooses stories and slants its telecasts to the right because its viewers tend to be conservative. MSNBC slants to the left because it’s viewers tend to be liberal. I have no idea who watches CNN, and I can’t imagine why anyone would.

The point is, people who get their news from cable TV probably tune into the network that reinforces, but rarely challenges their existing point of view. They choose their online news sources for the same reason. Too many “journalists” today believe it’s their job to tell us what to think, not what to know. This dynamic is driving us into opposing camps, and in today’s world, being in an opposing camp is akin to being un-American.

America is being ripped apart by those who seek to manipulate us for profit or influence, and we now seem more than willing to abandon the principles we once cherished as Americans for nothing more than short-term political advantage.

The result is college professors being attacked in the street. It is the responsibility of each of us to make sure the positions we hold are rooted in fact, not simply those we’ve been manipulated to believe. And for those on the left who like to point accusing fingers at “misinformed” conservatives, may I suggest, you have your own problems in this regard. We all live in glass houses.

Finally, we have a responsibility to govern our emotions and to express ourselves in a way that adds to the discussion, not shut it down.

A punch in the face is not an argument.

Chris Roemer is a former banker and a former Carroll County Public Schools middle school principal who writes from Finksburg.

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