It seems in recent years that political players and pundits have completely abandoned self-restraint in the criticism of their opponents and even now refuse to say a kind word about them or the state of the nation. In this age of ubiquitous communications, the constant barrage of criticism is not only seen by politicians' constituents or pundits' audiences, it's also seen by the whole world. The effect of this critical communication is to cause the world to believe we are evil despite the good we stand for as a nation (individual exceptions notwithstanding!). The real battle is not in the deserts of the Middle East. It's in the hearts and minds of all people everywhere. As a result of our constant criticism, we have become our own worst enemies.
Sadly, our inward-targeted negativity is reinforcing the efforts of terrorists worldwide to make the United States appear evil. The hearts of so many have grown cold toward the best hope in the world for peace and prosperity. How ironic it is that while the vast majority of Americans want all people to enjoy the peace that self-governance (with proper self-control) brings, so many of us are contributing to the loss of freedom worldwide by criticizing our government and by failing to extol the good that sprouts from the fertile soil of American democracy every day.
We must ask ourselves the motive for our criticism. Some negativity is just and even helpful to the cause of peace. For example, I applaud those who have discovered and investigated the corruption of Jack Abramoff and the politicians who knowingly accepted bribes from him. Openly exposing this criminal activity shows the world that the United States has values and will not stand for corrupt practices. However, if the motive for criticism is to gain power, then the negativity will serve other purposes and may come back to haunt America.
We must hold ourselves accountable for the damage we are doing to the cause of world peace. The world is watching. If we blame our leaders for everything that goes wrong, like Pavlov's dog, the world will begin to blame the United States for the world's ills. Other nations and peoples will begin to mistrust America, it's best ally. At the same time, because we refuse to tout the good conditions we enjoy and the positive accomplishments in the world for fear this may benefit a political opponent, the world doesn't see what great things American can do for them.
Ezra Taft Benson gave a talk at Brigham Young University on March 28, 1976 while he was the President of the Council of the Twelve. In it he talked about the ills of constant negativity and the price people would have to pay for it. It's interesting to see how this principle applies today, 30 years later. Here is an excerpt from that talk:
Today we are almost engulfed by this tide of self-criticism, depreciation, and defamation of those who served our country honorably and with distinction. A most recent victim of the tarnish brush is J. Edgar Hoover. I knew J. Edgar Hoover personally over many years. He was a God-fearing man and one of the most honorable and able men I have ever known in government service. By innuendo, lesser men, whose own motives are questionable, have maligned his motives and good character.
I know the philosophy behind this practice--"to tell it as it is." All too often those who subscribe to this philosophy are not hampered by too many facts. When will we awaken to the fact that the defamation of our dead heroes only serves to undermine faith in the principles for which they stood, and the institutions which they established? Some have termed this practice as "historical realism" or moderately call it "debunking." I call it slander and defamation. I repeat, those who are guilty of it in their writing or teaching will answer to a higher tribunal.
It should not, therefore, cause us to be astonished when other nations view the United States as a "faltering democracy." How long would a basketball team, ranked number one in the polls, remain in that position if the studentbody, the school paper, and supporting faculty constantly pointed out its weaknesses? Soon the team would begin to lack confidence and fail. This is what we have been doing in our blessed country. Our heroes and institutions have been tarnished. We are constantly being reminded of what is wrong in our country, via the press and other media. A recent editorial in the London Daily Telegraph appealed to us:
The United States should know that her European cousins and allies are appalled and disgusted at the present open disarray of her public life. The self-criticism and self-destructive tendencies are running mad with no countervailing force in sight. . . . Please America, for God's sake, pull yourself together.
It is the job of the historian and educator and church leader to help us as a nation to "pull ourselves together," to help us regain perspective and vision and the respect of all nations. This will not be done by showing that this is merely a phase through which we are passing. No, it will be done by men who possess a love of country, a vision of our country's future, and the assurance of her divinely guided destiny.
It all goes back to what our mothers taught. Certainly they were wise. The 1st Amendment may protect free speech, but it doesn't guard against the consequences of misusing that right. Perhaps our mothers knew something about consequences.