Free speech is one of the main reasons why millions come here every year to live. Separation of church and state and equal opportunity for employment are too. We may have our dalliances with empire-building, but by and large we are where we are at the top of the world food chain because we have attracted the brightest and best minds in the world, who have gotten a taste of freedom, competitive markets, and limitless potential and have determined that there ain't no place like America. Of course, as an American I wholeheartedly agree. My fondest dream is that my children get to inherit a country that is less fucked-up than we are around fundamentalist religion and attempts to circumvent the Constitution. The best we can do is to shout down and isolate nutjobs of every stripe, and seek out people across the divide who can hold opposing viewpoints without feeling the need to shame and degrade each other, as President Obama so eloquently urged last week in Michigan:
[I]f you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. (Applause.) It is essential for our democracy.
And so, too, is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people. I look out at this class and I realize for four years at Michigan you have been exposed to diverse thinkers and scholars, professors and students. Don’t narrow that broad intellectual exposure just because you’re leaving here. Instead, seek to expand it. If you grew up in a big city, spend some time with somebody who grew up in a rural town. If you find yourself only hanging around with people of your own race or ethnicity or religion, include people in your circle who have different backgrounds and life experiences. You’ll learn what it’s like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, and in the process, you will help to make this democracy work.