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Carroll County Times Opinion

Chris Roemer: Long gone are the days of agree to disagree | COMMENTARY

I always thought it would be great to have a column in the Carroll County Times. Many thanks to this paper’s editors for allowing me to continue to write.

I understand politics today has taken a particularly ugly turn, but when I write, I’m just adding my voice to the chorus, one opinion among many. I knew people would disagree with me and call me names, but I never really considered the possibility it would go beyond that.

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I should have.

At first, I was angry about it. Now, I’m just sad. What has happened to us?

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I remember being a student way back when at Gettysburg College. The professors, and the students in their classes, pretty much covered the entire political spectrum.

I had a history professor who was a retired lieutenant colonel in in naval intelligence. He taught from a decidedly conservative perspective.

I also had a sociology professor who self-identified as an avowed Marxist. I remember writing a paper criticizing his political views. It came back to me covered in red ink with comments rebutting my arguments and a grade of A+.

I came of age during a time when the open exchange of lots of different ideas and perspectives was encouraged. The college I attended did everything it could to expose us to a wide range of perspectives and points of view. Whatever our perspective, we were pushed to engage with people whose ideas challenged our own. People who thought differently were valued, and no one tried to silence anyone.

The overall environment on campus was pretty liberal, but I don’t recall anyone protesting George H.W. Bush when he made a campaign stop on campus during his first run for president. In fact, I don’t recall anyone protesting the presence of any speaker on campus. If you didn’t like a particular speaker, you just didn’t go to their event. No one was arrogant enough to think that if they didn’t like or agree with someone, no one should be allowed to hear them speak.

Today’s college experience is vastly different. The Gettysburg College of today is a school that was in an uproar because someone found a yearbook picture of one of its Board of Trustees members in a Nazi uniform. The picture depicted this individual, an alumnus, 40 years earlier, dressed for a sitcom-themed costume party as Sergeant Schultz from the TV sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes.” The trustee, who had given millions of dollars to the school and had a highly regarded leadership program at the college named for him, was forced to resign.

I remember during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979 when my fraternity hung an effigy of the Ayatollah Khomeini from the flagpole in front of our house. One evening, there was a knock on the door. It was a professor who said he took issue with the effigy and asked us to take it down. We thanked him for making us aware how he felt, and he went on his way. We left the effigy where it was.

I can only imagine what today’s reaction would have been on most college campuses. I suppose, we just weren’t as grim as folks are these days.

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Some of us were liberal, some conservative, and some nothing at all, but somehow we all got along.

Back then, political discussions were enjoyable. Invigorating. Edifying. Today, they’re fights to the death.

That sort of dialectic environment lasted most of my life. Someone’s politics simply was not a factor when choosing friends and associates, and people of different political persuasions could debate issues of the day without worrying about rupturing relationships. It’s only relatively recently that politics became a blood sport.

Today, people with different points of view than one’s own somehow are considered morally defective and it’s not unusual to hear calls for people expressing opposing views to be censored. Even here in our local paper, letters are written chastising the editor for having the temerity to publish views they don’t like.

Today, politicians see political opponents as mortal enemies to be destroyed. It wasn’t always that way.

Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan typified how political opponents could fight tooth and nail during the day, yet still be good-natured friends “after six.”

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For those of you too young to remember, Tip O’Neill was the Democratic speaker of the House when Ronald Reagan was the Republican president. Commenting on the relationship O’Neill and Reagan shared, O’Neill’s son put it this way: “While neither man embraced the other’s worldview, each respected the other’s right to hold it. Each respected the other as a man.”

I’ve tried to follow their example, and, on occasion, I’ve used this space to come to the defense of other contributors who hold positions on issues very different than my own.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to make a distinction between a person’s political ideology and their basic human decency. A more pervasive attitude these days seems to be, if I don’t agree with you, I am justified doing everything in my power to silence you, even if that means hurting you and your family.

That there are people out there who don’t like what I write is hardly a revelation, but I severely underestimated the depth to which some of those people have been corrupted by a single-minded insistence that everyone comply with their preferred point of view, and that those who refuse to comply should be punished.

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I will continue to write as long as I’m given the opportunity to do so. To stop now would be to reward the most sordid kind of behavior.

“Ideas are more powerful than guns,” said Soviet political leader Joseph Stalin. “We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”


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