One of the most interesting parts of political activism is the opportunity to debate and dialogue with others. Disagreement is nothing to fear. Argumentation doesn’t have to mean the end of a friendship. I have tremendous political differences with one of my dearest friends! My regular readers know that I enjoy etymology, so please let me remind us all that the English word “argue” comes from Latin, arguere, meaning “to make clear.” There is nothing inherently wrong with arguing–it’s how we argue that makes the difference.
Political speech that happens to be passionate and frank is not the same thing as hate speech. Too many people think that if they hate what you’re saying, then what you’re saying must be inappropriate. Too many people think that if your language offends someone, then it must be illegal, or they believe that if it evokes strong feelings then it must be condemned. Each of these propositions has to be false, or why else would our nation’s Founders have gone to such lengths to protect freedom of speech?
It seems to me that it’s the nature of political speech that it is going to be offensive to someone. That’s why it’s protected. The same can probably be said about religious speech, or speech that contains any ethical or moral component. Say it aloud, or write it down and publish it, and you’re going to attract energetic denunciation and calls for censorship. Why should this surprise anyone, especially those of us who make a habit of speaking our minds in public? Think about it: speech that doesn’t offend anybody never needs to be protected.
This topic is being broached here simply because I am occasionally challenged on the appropriateness of my political comments or with regard to articles that I reference here or post on Facebook. Let me be honest: I am delighted and honored that people take me seriously enough to comment, and this includes everyone’s comments and not just those who agree with me. On those occasions when the appropriateness of my comments or those I post from others is challenged, my usual response is twofold: first, I welcome the challenge and the chance to argue (to advance clarity); second, I ask for specifics.
In other words, I’m open to the criticism (only fools refuse to be critiqued), but specifics are required if the discussion is going to be advanced. What, specifically, have I written that is deemed to be inappropriate? What, specifically, have I posted from someone else that is inappropriate? Once the offending comment is identified, the next requirement is to explain why it is deemed inappopriate. Truthfully, when I do this, I usually get no response. Perhaps the person is too busy. Or, as I suspect, perhaps the person wrongly thought that because he or she doesn’t like the comments they qualify as inappropriate.
Occasionally the respondent is engaged and informed, and the debate ends up as a demonstration that I was inaccurate or that I overlooked something that genuinely is inappropriate. Once this is demonstrated I’m eager to remove the inaccuracy or the inappropriate comment. Sometimes entire articles or blog posts have to be deleted. My principles demand that I do so. In such a case I’ve not been censored at all. What I’ve done is to exercise mature reflective judgment. And I hope in those cases I’ve been an example of good citizenship.
That raises an urgent question. What qualifies as inappropriate political speech? I argue that it’s inappropriate if it is untrue, or if it threatens violence, when it’s overly vulgar, or if it avoids a legitimate issue by attacking the personhood of another through demonization, marginalization, or name-calling (the last of these being nothing more than a form of bullying).
Of course, some of this is open to interpretation. Nonetheless, these are the self-imposed rules that I live and write by when addressing political issues or any other issues of deep human significance (religion, morality, lifestyles, etc.). I have occasionally erred, and I’ve had to apologize; for the most part, however, I believe myself successful in avoiding what’s inappropriate. On the other hand, something isn’t necessarily inappropriate because someone else finds it disagreeable or offensive. Those who find this blog or my Facebook posts helpful can draw upon them as resources or they can disagree. If they so desire, they can voice their disagreement. If I sold advertising on this site they could purchase or cancel such advertising or they could frequent the advertisers or boycott them. That is their right. As a constitutional conservative, I defend the right of all citizens to shop as they like, to spend as they like, and to fraternize with those whom they choose while avoiding those with whom they prefer not to socialize.
If I lie intentionally, that’s inappropriate and it’s disingenuous. It would also demonstrate that I lack integrity and that you, the gentle reader, should spend your valuable time reading elsewhere. If I make an error and then refuse to correct or retract when it is made obvious to me, that is also inappropriate. Vile and nasty comments are inappropriate, along with picking on the family of political opponents, giving out their home address, threatening or even joking about violence, or making judgments about their relationship with God or their eternal salvation. (Seems to me that the folks on the Left are better at this stuff anyway.)
On the other hand, I deem that it is not inappropriate to tell the truth about a political or governmental official, even if the truth is painful or causes anger or disagreement. If an official behaves like a Roman emperor, spends irresponsibly, vacations too often, ignores the Constitution, takes action that arguably causes me economic harm, endangers the country, has more in common with Marxist ideology than American values, or causes me to have a strong dislike for that official–well, I am free to appropriately and passionately express my understanding of these issues with all of the energy I can muster.
I do it with gusto. It is not inappropriate.
When the President of the United States, during his first State of the Union address, publicly calls down the Supreme Court, that is inappropriate. When members of the US Senate falsely accuse Tea-Party members as racists, that is inappropriate. When the President inserts himself into local police issues as if he is the national judge and jury of local jurisdictional concerns, that is inappropriate. When members of the House of Representatives publicly prejudice a police investigation into the death of a teen more than a thousand miles from DC, that is inappropriate. When the President, a former professor of constitutional law, lies about the Supreme Court as it fulfills its constititionally-mandated duties, that is not only inappropriate, it’s a vile form of bullying.
There are bullies in the world and their actions are dangerous, not just inappropriate. Some of those bullies hold elected office.