MINOT, N.D. -- I had to laugh at my friend and fellow columnist Tony Bender's most recent headline, lamenting the "morality police."
He's talking about Republicans, of course, though by his second paragraph he's already defending laws that force bakers to serve gay couples because Bender finds that sort of thing to be moral.
So do I, frankly, but I also believe that the price of admission to a free society is that often people do or say things you don't agree with.
If you want free speech, you're going to have to live with Klan members exercising it too.
I guess, in Bender's view, policing morality is fine as long as it is his morals being enforced.
Right after I read Bender's column this morning, I was perusing David Leonhardt's morning update in the New York Times and came across this passage: "Why is the U.S. enduring a far more severe virus outbreak than any other rich country?" he asks, before answering his own question. "There are multiple causes, but one of them is the size and strength of right-wing media organizations that frequently broadcast falsehoods."
The root cause of a resurgent coronavirus is because right-wingers are talking too much.
I'm sure that's a popular sentiment in the newsrooms of the New York Times these days. I mean, those are the folks who just sent a top editor packing for the sin of publishing the point of view of a sitting Republican senator.
I don't necessarily disagree with Leonhardt's criticism of Fox News and other right-leaning outlets. I, too, am baffled at the resistance to wearing masks, not to mention the vilification of people such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.
But I'm also more than a bit skeptical of those who talk about "science" as if it were a monolithic entity with a uniform point of view, and scientists as if they were entirely infallible.
We know this isn't true. Just weeks ago, we all witnessed the spectacle of scientists and doctors and public health experts denouncing protests against government lockdown, only to fall all over themselves endorsing the Black Lives Matter protests before going back to their previous position of scolding anyone violating social distancing policies. They carved out an exception based on their politics, and it left many Americans doubting them.
That's about as bad for our efforts to combat COVID-19 as anything Fox News has done.
For decades, the left has hung a lab coat on their ideology, declared it "science," and then attacked dissenters as if they were remonstrating the heresies of heliocentrism.
Now, when we need our medical and science communities to help lead us through this pandemic, we're finding out just how severely politicized science has eroded the public's trust in scientists.
Do you know what also hasn't helped? That our college campuses have become ideologically homogeneous epicenters of political intolerance that export said prejudice to the broader public. "We are all on campus now," Andrew Sullivan wrote a couple of years back in a lengthy indictment of identity politics. He's just recently been driven out of his gig at New York magazine for being an apostate in the Church of Woke, which illustrates another of our present problems.
The news media, the folks tasked with disseminating reliable information to the public, has, in many ways, become as bad as the campuses, particularly in the newsrooms of some of our most prominent national publications. Legendary editor Marty Baron's struggles with his young, universally left-wing staff at the Washington Post is a representative example of the phenomena.
In this moment of crisis, the American public is being asked to trust institutions — academia, the medical and science communities, the news media — which have become overtly hostile to dissent and viewpoint diversity.
What's the solution?
What people like Bender want is more enforcement. If the rubes won't do the right thing, we'll make them do it, whether it's wearing masks or baking a cake.
Maybe that will work some of the time, but each time we do it we move further away from a free society toward something else.
This isn't a new debate — it so often comes down to Hobbes versus Locke, doesn't it? — but it's as relevant now as ever.
Are we going to trust that people will generally make the best decisions for themselves? Or are we going to impose on them what the ruling faction believes is best for them?
It's harder, and sometimes it requires us to stand by and watch morons do moronic things, but I think we're better off letting people choose.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.