Dear Opinion Writers: We Don't Speak for America
I love opinion writing. I've been doing it for this website (and several others) for years, and I enjoy sharing my thoughts and perspectives with readers.
Like many writers, I feel heartened when people agree with me. It's rewarding to put forth an argument that persuades or connects with others. At the same time, I respect disagreement.
Sure, I get irritated when individuals choose to pervert my points, claim that I have ulterior motives for what I write, or resort to personal swipes, but that comes with the territory. If you share your work with the public, you open yourself up to many forms of scrutiny. That scrutiny isn't always going to be fair or smart.
Sometimes we writers put out a piece that strikes a particular chord with an enormous number of readers. In this modern-tech era, a previously unknown individual's column can go viral across the Internet within a matter of minutes. When it happens, it's a cool feeling, and it can give us a big head. It can even make some of us believe that we are the voice of the people.
But we're not. And it's important to always remember that.
One of my pet peeves as a writer is when other writers present themselves on behalf of America, or on behalf of a majority of the country.
In 2015, I took to task journalist Dick Meyer who wrote a sappy open thank you letter to President Obama. Meyer was offended by what he viewed as unfair criticism and insufficient appreciation of our president, so he decided to write a piece that lavished the leader of the free world with slobbering praise.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but the kicker was how he signed the letter: "So, Mr. President, on behalf of an ungrateful nation, thank you." The salutation was also incorporated into the headline of the column.
On behalf of an ungrateful nation? Talk about presumptuousness.
The piece was reprinted in a large number of publications and widely shared across the Internet. It no doubt mirrored the sentiments of a lot of Obama fans, but Meyer obviously doesn't speak for the nation. To snub those in disagreement by sanctimoniously proclaiming otherwise is pure narcissism.
A similar column now making the rounds was written by a liberal Christian blogger named John Pavlovitz. Expanding on his political views in recent thought-pieces entitled "Trump Voters are Losers" and "What This Election Taught Me About My Privilege", Pavlovitz forged his own open letter of apology. This one, however, wasn't to the president or any other individual. It was addressed to the entire world. And he modestly signed it, "The American Majority."
As you can probably guess, this plea for forgiveness was in regard to the sin our country committed back in November by electing Donald Trump. The piece unsurprisingly refers to our new president as a "dictator" and includes a host of unflattering adjectives and preachy condemnations. Littered throughout the letter are repeated phrases like "he does not speak for us" and "his America is not our America" and "We're sorry for...".
Pavlovitz is horrified by the notion that the voice of our highest elected leader might be confused, by the international community, for the voice of our nation's citizens. If this is the kind of thing that keeps Pavlovitz up at night, he should by all means make himself be heard.
What he doesn't seem to understand, however, is that by proclaiming himself to represent America's collective moral conscience (or at least the conscience of most Americans), he is guilty of precisely what he insists he rejects.
Pavlovitz, of course, isn't our domestic conscience. But because he identifies politically with Hillary Clinton, and Clinton won the popular vote by roughly three million votes, he believes his words are somehow representative of the country.
"The point is that the vast majority of Americans are not with him," Pavlovitz writes, referencing the vote tallies to justify his self-appointed position as National Spokesperson.
He's certainly right that most people didn't vote for Trump. But while he points out that millions of eligible voters didn't vote at all, he conveniently fails to mention that most of those who did participate in the democratic process also didn't vote for Clinton (nearly 52% in fact).
And of course, Pavlovitz doesn't at all explore how the electoral college dictates the way presidential candidates run their campaigns. Had Trump focused primarily on campaigning in regional areas with large populations instead of in swing-states, he may well have won the popular vote. But the popular vote isn't what is required to win the presidency, even if that reality has bitten the Democratic party twice in the past 16 years.
Regardless, none of this matters to the argument of representative speech -- not in a nation of free individuals.
Pavlovitz certainly makes a few good points in his column -- ones that a tough Trump-critic like myself can appreciate and relate to. But as writers, we need to check our egos at the door.
Our opinions aren't those of the people. We don't speak on behalf of our country's citizens. Believing otherwise is a symptom of self-absorption.