We have become a nation where bullying not only is too common in school hallways and playgrounds but in our politics and public meetings.
As we saw in the Congressional town halls of 2010 those angered by the lies being spread about the health care reform bill were loud, rude and nasty to elected officials and other citizens. There was no evidence of respect for the office of the persons conducting the meeting and no civility toward neighbors who were present and perhaps on the other side of the issue. Instead there was simply an attempt to loudly bully those in attendance to either join in harassing the elected official or keep silent.
And that continues today. While once was considered standard at a political rally or a peaceful demonstration to cheer, jeer and exhibit enthusiasm is now common at community governmental meetings to shout, scream and accuse elected officials of lying. This reached the extreme when a Congressman shouted at the President during the State of Union address “You Lie”. Citizens shout at their local officials until they do what the citizens want. We were a nation whose body politic was formed around the concept of representative democracy. People voted in elections and accepted the results of the election. If those who won did not perform to the expectations of the majority they were ousted in the next elections.
Today as soon as the ballots are counted the losing side declares the winners illegitimate. The losers than practice the art made famous by former Speaker Gingrich in 1995 - the politics of personal destruction. Rather than debate an idea the losing side demonizes and seeks to personally defame and destroy the individual who represents that idea or party. Epithets are tossed around and accusations with no basis in fact are issued like dogma. Some of the charges are a distortion of an underlying fact but most are simply made up. And, if the attacked party attempts to reason with their attacker they can’t because anything they say in their own defense is twisted and used against them. When the shouter claims the sky is green and the elected official says no it’s blue the attacker responds you know it’s black when there’s a storm. You cannot reason with irrational people; you cannot present facts to those who refuse to understand them. As the Bible says none are as blind as those who will not see.
The result of this bullying politics is to drive good people out. Those who will not fight fire with fire stay home - they may vote but that’s the last time they are heard. They will not seek or accept office because understandably they don’t want to make themselves the targets of the bullies. When the Communists took power in Russia in 1917 and when the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933 it was through the tactics of bullying. They silenced the opposition using force when verbal bullying failed.
One of the many reasons I support the people of Wisconsin in their effort to recall Governor Walker is to show people that there is another way. Vote those you disagree wit out. We need more recall provisions in our various state laws and we need more states with initiative and referendum. We also need term limits for legislative officials. But with those reforms must come a societal acceptance of the results of the elections. Let those elected show their stuff and then let the electorate take the appropriate actions to replace them if they wish to.
If we no longer accept the legitimacy of our elections - and the right wing efforts to suppress voting by enacting photo id laws and reducing the number of polling places and restricting absentee voting will only increase the seeming illegitimacy of the election results - we will soon lose the right to hold elections. If we don’t adopt a constitutional amendment to require full transparency and total disclosure of campaign contributions and limit the size of personal and corporate contributions our democracy will become an oligarchy of the very rich. And we will find that when Patrick Henry cried “Give me Liberty or give me death” he never assumed that two hundred years later we might get neither.
22 January 2012