So compartmentalized is our world that we can hardly tackle any major problem without treading on sacrosanct fields. But I have no credentials and I must speak.
First, what is the freedom that results in displays of arms at Town Halls and the emission of hate speech and hate graphics. It is not the internal freedom that emerges from a spiritual release from one’s burdens. It is not the freedom St. Paul speaks of when he says Christ has set us free. What is it? It appears to be an interpretation of what is permitted by right. Such freedom is necessarily confrontational. No matter how it gets dressed up, a freedom tied to a right, regardless of how preciously it is held, carries with it the statement, I have a right to do this. As such, it is necessarily contextual. It can and does involve an adjudication of rights among potentially conflicting persons and groups.
Second, what is the role of media in spreading hate speech and public displays of hate and threat. Given the “right” to do and say most anything and its extension to anyone with the capacity to publish, online or off, the answer is: it is pervasive. Hate speech and violent threats have been endemic in the U.S. since the days of Cotton Mather and Shay’s rebellion. But now there are no brakes upon its circulation and display. We delude ourselves if we do not look this fact in the eye and acknowledge that even if we limit our participation, we will always have media that will do what we may regard as inflammatory, despicable or small-minded. The role of media does not exist. Media do what media do and delude themselves talking about their role.
What of constraint? Are there any constraints? Is boredom our ally here? People simply tiring of idiotic posturing and silly display. I would not underestimate that. Could we hope for a growth of consensus — such as took place when we finally began to abolish smoking? We might gradually concede that the false cry in the theater has wide and obvious application to public behavior that indulges in hate and provocation. Such constraint might include the behavior of the media. A gradual willingness to stanch the flow of hateful material. But here my credulity fades. I do not believe the present crisis will be so easily resolved. The genie that is being unloosed leaves too many questions unanswered.
What is society’s tipping point?
Can a progressive current gradually prevail?
Or is it likely that the back and forth between progress and repression will intensify until even thinking like this becomes impossible?
And what of law?
Shall we increase the perimeter around the President?
Shall we outlaw certain expressions as too inflammatory?
Shall we limit access to certain weapons that have no use beyond the quick killing of a whole bunch of folk in a very short time?
Such questions always suggest the tragedies that give rise to laws of restraint. But notice that these laws have had little success in turning us in a more pacific direction.
My answer will be to support the President and do my best to convince other progressives that the most important task is not to complain loudly about the pace of change. It is to do what is called for every step of the way. Mobilize the grass roots to do the simple things that will win votes and create a body of accomplishment that will eventually convince even wingnuts that their chances of winning by condoning hate and unreason are declining, not increasing.
There was a time when I would have cried loudly for some action from the religious community. But if there is such action today, the media must be ignoring it. If the way the middle goes is the way the nation goes, then this religious community will bear some blame if things go, in a word, south.