OPINION

Ideological mobs have us running scared. Time to stand up for ourselves.

A new study of American opinions – public and private – paints a dark picture of our daily lives that leaves me worried about where we're headed.

Scott Jennings
Opinion contributor

The woman who feels compelled to proclaim the usefulness of masks, despite her misgivings (and a significant amount of research). The congressman whose voters expect him to repeat things out loud he doesn’t believe to prove himself. The parent who wants to be more involved in a school but fears the social backlash of taking on the public education cabal.

A new study of American opinions – public and private – paints a dark picture of our daily lives that leaves me worried about where we're headed.

According to research by the nonprofit organization Populace, millions feel compelled to say things they don’t believe because of social fear: “The pressure to misrepresent our private views – to offer answers on politically and socially sensitive questions that are out of sync with our true beliefs – is pervasive in society today." 

People march in Atlanta on June 24, 2022, to protest the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

We're dealing with the thought police 

How sad. America, a country built on the idea of free speech and free thought, has devolved into one giant nanny state where everyone looks over their shoulder to see whether their friends have turned into the thought police. The topics are vast – from health care to politics – but the corrosion is the same.

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Pleasing the tribe (or at least staving off cancellation for another day) has become more important than just being yourself.

Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, a Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, gave The New York Times an eyebrow-raising comment after his narrow primary loss: “I can’t tell you the number of times somebody said, ‘You don’t have to believe the election is stolen, the important thing isn’t believing it, it’s saying it. …That is what a Republican is supposed to do right now.” 

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What the study says Americans are lying about

On topic after topic, fear trumps authenticity when it comes to what Americans publicly say about issues. You name it and we hide what’s inside, according to the Populace research. In the survey of more than 3,000 adults May 23-June 8, people responded to questions through a mix of polling techniques that allowed for anonymity:

According to research by the nonprofit organization Populace, only 44% of women privately feel wearing masks was effective at stopping COVID-19 spread, though 63% felt they should say they did.

►On COVID-19, only 44% of women privately feel wearing masks was effective at stopping COVID-19 spread, though 63% felt they should say they did.

►On education, Americans are privately more supportive of parents having more influence over curriculum (60%) than proclaim this publicly (52%). 

►On abortion, 60% of men say publicly that the decision should solely be left to a woman and her doctor than actually believe it (45%). But Republicans were less likely to privately say Roe v. Wade should be overturned (51%) than publicly (64%).

Why are we doing this?

People are running scared from what they perceive to be a powerful mob hellbent on enforcing an ideology.

But why? 

Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN political contributor and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations.

The study found that "in recent years, polls have consistently found that most Americans, across all demographics, feel they cannot share their honest opinions in public for fear of offending others or incurring retribution."

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It is about control. There’s nothing special about holding an opinion. We all have them. Influence means persuading others to adopt your opinion because they agree with it. But real power is forcing people to chant through forced smiles statements about  issues they don’t believe in.

We need to start being honest with each other

To achieve this means you’ve in effect created your own social currency that others are forced to use if they want to be included in the marketplace of ideas.

The negative outcomes of this system are myriad. It warps our politics. It distorts the worldview of young people who are learning to grow up as phonies instead of as themselves. We are destroying the individualism of thought that has defined American progress. Groupthink – and the enforcement of mandatory opinions – is as corrosive to American democracy and our way of life as a thousand U.S. Capitol riots.

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How will our children ever discover who they really are if they are forced to say things over and over that they don’t believe? What’s reality for them? The things they are forced to say to stay in the good graces of the group? Or their authentic views and emotional reactions to the world around them?

We should all reject this insanity. It will be hard, because the people who fight the hardest to enforce their ideological views are the meanest. People don’t give up hard-won control easily. But we must all ban together and say enough is enough and fully reclaim the freedom to think and to speak our minds.

Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN political contributor and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at Scott@RunSwitchPR.com or Twitter: @ScottJenningsKY