http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/29/opinions/t...itis/index.htmlThe general's speech is the one we wish the President could make
It is the speech we wish the President of the United States had delivered.
Alas, it fell to an Air Force general to remind America of its values. His rank may be lower than the commander in chief's, but Lt. Gen. Jay B. Silveria spoke with extraordinary passion and eloquence.
Everyone in America should listen to Silveria's words; everyone, including the President.
It happened on Thursday, at the 10th Air Base Wing in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Silveria, the superintendent of the US Air Force Academy, brought together more than 5,000 students, staff and Air Force officers to tell them with electrifying clarity that prejudice, bigotry and intolerance cannot be allowed to go unchallenged.
Air Force academy head to racists: 'Get out'
Someone had written racist slurs on a message board at the academy's prep school, where students hone the skills to join the prestigious Air Force Academy. If his audience had not heard about the incident, Silveria wanted to make sure they knew.
"If you're outraged," he said, "you're in the right place."
He was just getting started. "You should be outraged not only as an airman, but as a human being."With the five-minute video of his powerful lesson going viral, you can almost hear much of America answering, "Amen!"If the general's resonant words had sounded in the same hall a couple of years ago, they would not have spread across the country; they would not have seemed remarkable. After all, speaking out against hatred has been a staple of America's most respected leaders for decades. But that has changed. It started to change the day Donald Trump launched his presidential election campaign. His willingness to traffic in bigotry has threatened to unravel America's social fabric and undermine the country's standing in the world from the day he became President.
Silveria would not attack his commander in chief, but he knows that when five black students found the words "Go home" with a racial epithet on the message boards outside their rooms, it was not an isolated incident.
We would be "tone deaf," he said, "not to think about the backdrop of what's going on in our country." He mentioned the events in Charlottesville and Ferguson, and the controversy over protests at NFL games.Silveria gave the clearest explanation of how free speech is supposed to work. "The appropriate response for horrible language and horrible ideas -- the appropriate response is a better idea."
In the battlefield of ideas, the general launched a frontal assault. "We are here," he said, "because we have a better idea." He called for "civil discourse" on the issues tearing the country apart.
And he explained why the ideas of the bigots are wrong, speaking about how diversity creates strength, about the power we derive because, "we come from all walks of life... from all races ... all backgrounds ... all upbringings."
The general extolled the academy's values. He might have been talking about American values, about human values, about the principles that America proudly championed until recently, exhorting his rapt audience to defend them -- and to leave if they cannot embrace them.
At the heart of those intangible principles of tolerance and respect for others lies the most important element of humanity -- the imperative to treat every human being with respect.
"If you can't treat some with dignity and respect, then you need to get out," Silveria declared. "If you can't treat someone of another gender ... of another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out."His words are all the more striking because he could have been addressing the current president.