My younger brother is retired from the 9-to-5 grind.
My younger brother is retired from the 9-to-5 grind. He’s a good man, a volunteer firefighter, and a loving husband, father, son and brother. He pays his taxes, gives to charity and goes to church. He’s first-class American stock. And he watches Fox News constantly. Doing so colors darkly his attitude about our remarkable country, especially its leadership.
Likewise, most of the Marines I know binge on Fox News, too. I can’t help but think, bombarded by woe-is-me fear mongering and constant criticism of our nation’s leadership — whether justified or not — that incessant watching can’t help but color their attitudes about America and our leaders and candidates just as it colors my brother’s views.
Marines are opinionated. Like any American citizen, they have the liberty to privately express their thoughts and the freedom to vote their conscience. Publically, though, they’re obligated to be apolitical. But more than ever, active-duty Marines openly — sometimes even disrespectfully — criticize our nation’s leaders.
Marines aren’t alone. We Americans all seem more willing to express our political opinions openly whether asked for or not. I don’t know whatever happened to the general rule of nicety that demanded we not discuss politics and religion in polite company, but whatever happened to it, it’s passé — if not ignored entirely — by a majority of us.
This could be the “Fox News Effect.” Or it could be that we’re generally less polite as a culture, less inclined to hold our tongue, more prone to absolutes, and more apt to share every tidbit of our lives like anyone really cares. It could be both.
Even the Supreme Court is not immune. Justice Ginsburg was drawn into the fray recently when, prompted in a New York Times interview, she offered impolite references to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. She was criticized for her indiscretions by both the right and the left.
Could a coup d’état happen in the United States as was attempted in Turkey? If I’ve learned anything in my life — especially considering recent news events — it’s that anything’s possible.
Many might conversely think such a thing’s impossible in the United States. But, a political military (and judicial) — a disrespect for the rule of law and contempt for the Peoples’ choice and too much time listening to the talking news heads of any ilk — makes them more likely.
Retired Marine Corps General Kelly recognizes this. With more than four decades serving his country through six administrations, Kelly has a unique perspective. In an article in ForeignPolicy.com (July 11 by Molly O’Toole), Kelly warns the top brass to stay out of the “cesspool of domestic politics.”
“To Kelly,” O’Toole writes, “the brass who are weighing-in on the 2016 campaign with critiques or endorsements are breaking down a sacred wall between the military and civilian politics that helps maintain the ‘tell it like it is’ integrity of one of the U.S. military.”
One has to hope the active-duty brass does, in fact, tell it like it is when our civilian leaders ascribe to policies harmful to our military and nation. Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu, USMC, wrote in a column entitled “General Cowardice” (FrontPageMagazine.com April 24, 2006), “For a general officer to serve silently when given the opportunity to express his or her opinion and wait to complain about it (when retired) is moral cowardice.”
Kelly’s point, I think, is that while they certainly have the right to free public expression when retired, the brass should avoid picking sides when the administration under which they serve is still in office. Doing so can undermine the belief they honorably played the “honest broker” role when on active duty.
But even if morally brave — which I believe most generals are — the brass is no less prone to the pessimism developed by the constant barrage of the 24-7 talking news head media cycle than my brother. We’re all susceptible to doom and gloom.
So turn down the “cesspool” on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC and turn up the local news. “All politics is local” anyway as former House Speaker Tip O’Neal is credited with saying. Any of us can counteract the negativity and make a positive difference locally among our families, neighbors and communities. Few of us will have the chance to make a difference nationally. Even generals.
Not to fairy-dust our legitimate problems, but we’d all do well to remember British journalist Alistair Cooke’s insights to those who despair of American society: “In a self-governing republic — good government in some places, dubious in others — 3,000 miles wide, 1,800 miles long, with 50 separate states which, in many important matters, have almost absolute powers; with millions of people drawn from scores of nations; what is remarkable is not the conflict between them but the truce.”
Barry Fetzer is a columnist for the Havelock News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.