By David Swanson
Statements of undisputed facts about President Barack Obama’s actions can generate declarations on progressive websites that one has “gone too far” or said something that “should not be said.” Honesty has been replaced by loyalty.
The most common place to find accurate statements on presidential abuses of power is buried in a sea of lunacy on rightwing websites that conclude their analyses with encouragement of violence, gun purchasing, and assassination.
Denunciations of rightwing incitement of violence and hatred come most often from groups and individuals eager to change the topic from the abysmal failures of Democrats who have been given large majorities in the House and Senate, plus the White House, and chosen to do nothing.
Tough talk about the failures of Democrats is most often heard from racist, xenophobic believers in fantastical fairy tales with very little connection to reality.
Room needs to be created for other types of speech. We must be able to criticize and even legally prevent incitement of political violence, while at the same time examining what has made some people susceptible to that kind of talk, and while simultaneously speaking honestly about the failings of the people being targeted.
To do this, we have to be clear about what is unacceptable speech, what is acceptable but misguided speech, what we honestly believe, and what amounts to adoration rather than advocacy. Comparing someone’s actions to those of Adolph Hitler is not, by itself, speech that should be suppressed. The phrase “enemies, foreign and domestic” is not verboten. If dictatorial power or fascistic tendencies could not be discussed, huge chunks of what has been said about Bush and Cheney would have to be eliminated along with hours of rightwing radio Obama-bashing. We cannot resist what we cannot mention.
What we should not have on our airwaves are calls for violent “revolution”, for persuading our elected officials of their errors by increasing the statistics on gun sales, for hating people’s religions or nations or races or sexual groups, and for assassination. We can most effectively resist abuses of power through nonviolence. Blocking the encouragement of violence does not deprive us of any rights. So, the question is not whether the violence is driven by accurate facts and agreeable theories. The question is simply whether violence is being encouraged. Theories that depict groups of people as evil and in need of elimination tend to encourage violence.
What we should have openly reported and discussed are people’s fantasies and the possible resentments producing them. These include claims that Obama was born in Africa and claims that Bush shot a missile from an invisible plane into the Pentagon, as well as claims that Jesus will come back if we can start enough wars in the Middle East. We should see the people of Afghanistan burning Obama in effigy and hear honest analysis of why they might be doing that. We should see anti-abortion activists burning Congressional Democrats in effigy, and hear honest analysis of why they might be doing that. The analysis can include the possibility that people are badly misinformed and hurting their own interests, but it must be open, honest, and accurate.
When assassination threats increase, when people begin killing police officers or census workers based on fantasies that politicians and pundits have used to manipulate them, when police themselves begin abusing and even killing members of minority groups that have been scapegoated, clear connections to hateful and inciting language must be drawn and all those responsible held accountable.
But there is no conflict between that and speaking or writing honestly about the actual failures of some of the real people so destructively depicted as the antichrist or devils. We must oppose the use of violence against anyone and everyone. By opposing the assassination of an elected official, I am not joining his or her team. I am not signing a loyalty oath and agreeing to pretend that a bailout for health insurance corporations is meaningful progress. I can oppose the burning of effigies and still describe the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as massive crimes legally equivalent to mass-murder. I can reject racist portraits of President Obama that label him a socialist, and still advocate for more socialistic policies in our government.
We’ve all mistaken politics for personal relationships. Our role is not to be a friend or an enemy to a politician. Our role is to encourage them when they work for what we believe is needed, and to discourage them when they move in a different direction. We can best do either of those things by remaining independent and indifferent to the childish notion of being with them or against them. And we can best do either of those things by nonviolent means. In fact, nothing would move our government in a more dangerous direction than anti-governmental violence. And nothing would encourage such violence more than insistence that everyone refrain from criticizing politicians.
On the other hand, nothing would move our government in a more positive direction, than uniting the 90 percent of Americans who oppose Wall Street bailouts around a campaign of nonviolent resistance to antidemocratic abuses, regardless of parties, free of delusions, and apart from all bigotry and foolish distraction.
David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: https://davidswanson.org/book.