Look, I get that a talk-radio host facing the risky daily task of filling three hours of air time with improvised, live commentary would incline toward absolutism on free speech. I also agree that communication and the use of language deserve wide latitude, with a substantial amount of insulation from corresponding actions. That is, we shouldn’t have to fear that expressing our opinions will have legal repercussions, even if somebody takes our ideas to the level of action.
That’s a gray area, though, requiring a healthy degree of self-accountability and interpersonal policing that warns people — with speech — when somebody’s going too far. This shouldn’t be a controversial point. Think bullying. Think raising our own children to communicate well and responsibly. This ought to be obvious stuff. Language is powerful. That’s why totalitarians try to limit it in the first place.
Believing such things, I was stunned to hear Dan Yorke’s interview with Democrat Congressman David Cicilline this week, about a progressive shooter’s attack on a baseball field of Republicans. Listening to the interview, one gets the impression that Yorke believes that language is such a superficial tool that nobody should face any responsibility for its consequences. That impression is only amplified by the fact that, with no challenge whatsoever, he lets David “I’ve seen these Republicans up close” Cicilline talk about how people don’t understand just how friendly Congressional Democrats and Republicans are.
Let’s take another peek into the Cicilline fundraising email file, shall we? One email from last July is headlined “I’m terrified.” It’s about the (mild) religious freedom bill that Mike Pence signed as governor of Indiana, which Cicilline declares makes him “terrified at the thought of a Trump-Pence administration.” “We have to make ourselves loud and clear: LGBT discrimination has absolutely no place in our country, let alone the White House.”
An email from March of this year is headlined, “we must do something.” In this one Cicilline insists that Jeff Sessions “lied under oath about contact with Russia.” Two weeks later, his headline is that the health care reform is “a malicious bill,” and he calls on people not to stand by while “the GOP deprive[s] our most vulnerable people of the services they need in favor of giving tax cuts to the wealthy.”
We know that class warfare was a special concern of the baseball attacker.
There are more, but these examples give a reasonable sense of the themes. Republicans are scary, and Trump-Pence is terrifying, and together they are putting people in immediate mortal danger and must be stopped.
Yes, these are fundraising emails. Yes, it’s just political rhetoric. But is there no room whatsoever to challenge the congressman on the questions of whether these themes are really just ordinary political rhetoric among across-the-aisle friends and whether, even if so, such talk might contribute to the escalation pushing imbalanced or otherwise dangerous people to do terrible things?
Doesn’t this view have enough substance and topical relevance even to ask one of our elected officials about?