Responsibility and Respect

Published: October 2, 2017

By Jim Lichtman
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Two things happened last week that received little attention, but are vital to our progress toward a more perfect union.

Last Thursday (Sept. 28), Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch spoke to The Fund for American Studies, a conservative, non-profit educational organization that teaches “the principles of limited government, free-market economics and honorable leadership.”

“In his remarks,” The New York Times writes (Sept. 28), “Justice Gorsuch called for civility in debates over public controversies. On the one hand, he said, the First Amendment guarantees that ‘Americans can say pretty much anything they want for more or less any reason they want more or less anytime they want.’

“ ‘But with every right comes a correlative responsibility,’ he said. ‘And to be worthy of our First Amendment freedoms, we have to all adopt certain civil habits that enable others to enjoy them as well. When it comes to the First Amendment, that means tolerate those who don’t agree with us, or those whose ideas upset us, giving others the benefit of the doubt about their motives.’ ”

In a 2010 commentary (Rights vs. Responsibilities), I wrote, “…some people are so focused on rights that they forget about the corresponding responsibilities. The right to free speech carries with it the responsibility to speak in a civil manner. The right to march in protest carries with it the responsibility to do so in a peaceful and respectful way. …

“How can we claim to be ‘the land of the free’ when individuals declare that their right to free speech includes calling a black congressman, n****r?  Where is the exercise of responsibility for ‘the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances’ when people curse and spit on another?”

While I commend Justice Gorsuch for adding his voice to a subject that is not addressed often enough, I was disappointed in the venue chosen by others for his address, namely The Trump Hotel in downtown Washington, DC – a site that continues to remain under an ethical cloud due to President Trump’s personal and financial stake in the property.

Nonetheless, Judge Gorsuch’s words regarding responsibility carry considerable weight at a time when we ALL need to remember to dial-it-back!

In the same week, a racial incident at the U.S. Air Force Academy prompted Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria to address the entire class of cadets.

When Silveria discovered that five black cadets had racial slurs written on the message boards on the doors to their rooms, he took immediate action.

As reported by The Washington Post last Friday (Sept. 29), “Silveria… urged cadets to reach for their phones.

“ ‘I want you to videotape this so you have it, so you can use it — so that we all have the moral courage together,’ he said, surrounded by 1,500 of the academy’s faculty, administrators and athletic coaches.

“ ‘If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, get out.’ ”

With blunt precision, Silveria made clear that everyone under his command at the Academy will either treat others with respect and dignity or be asked to leave.

“There is only one way to confront hatred and prejudice: head on. Well said, Lt. Gen Silveria.”

Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 29, 2017

Important statement by Lt. Gen. Silveria @AF Academy. I agree, there’s no place for racism or bigotry in our military or this great nation.”

John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 29, 2017

Everyone, EVERY ONE, should listen to Lt. Gen. Silveria’s message. It is a well-spoken reminder that if we do NOT speak out against bigotry and intolerance when we see it, we are part of the problem.

“In his 32-year career,” The Post continues, “Silveria has nearly 4,000 hours of flight time, including combat missions over Iraq and the Balkans, making him one of the Air Force’s most experienced pilots, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

“ ‘When it came time to pick the next superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria was the obvious choice,’ Gen. David Goldfein, the branch’s chief of staff, said at Silveria’s appointment ceremony, according to the Gazette. ‘I don’t believe we have an officer serving in the Air Force today with more combat time, more joint credibility, or more operational understanding of the art of modern war.’ ”

And I would add, no one has demonstrated more operational character than Lt. Gen. Silveria.


  1. One of the things I found most enjoyable about my military service, especially in combat Vietnam, was the simplicity of rule enforcement which three stars on the shoulder makes very simple.

    Today’s campus disappointments, protests resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollar losses are tolerated by beleaguered administrators (Middlebury, Dartmouth, Missouri, etc.) simply because they do not have the POWER to expel without cause, legal tests and lawsuits. At Air Force, “shape up or get out” has real meaning and is not a threat. It will happen, and should.

    I like that kind of executive power, because in ethical hands, it works effectively and FAST.

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