Sunday, June 18, 2017

In Which I Shamelessly Use the Shooting of Scalise to Score Political Points

First of call, kudos to our nation's leaders for their statesmanlike reaction to the baseball park shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise and others.  All have behaved commendably. Democrats condemned violence absolutely and without reservation and expressing support for their Republican colleagues.  Republicans made clear that they blamed the shooter only and not their opponents.  The shooter was a Bernie Sanders volunteers, so Sanders made clear:
I am sickened by this despicable act. Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through nonviolent action, and anything else runs against our most deeply held American values.
Paul Ryan made as lofty and statesmanlike speech as anyone ask for:
[B]efore this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now. Because we are. I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come lift each other up...and to show the country—show the world—that we are one House. The people's House—united in our humanity.
Even Donald Trump made a fine, statesmanlike speech that expressed solidarity and refrained from finger-pointing.

Of course, plenty of people who were not our nation's leaders started finger-pointing right away, and it didn't take long for plenty of people at the top to follow.  And, although it may be in bad taste, I can't resist doing a little finger pointing of my own -- in both directions.

Plenty of people on my side have gloated at the prospect of Rand Paul, a strong advocate of the Second Amendment as giving people the right to own guns to shoot at oppressive government hiding behind a pole from someone who took this advice a little too literally.  Bet you never thought that you'd be the target!

But in all seriousness yes, this is one of the reasons what is wrong with the whole insurrectionary theory of the Second Amendment.  The argument is that gun ownership is protected as an individual right so as to protect the collective right of revolution against unjust government.  There is an obvious mismatch here.  Insurrectionists insist that we have the Second Amendment to ensure that We, the People can engage in violent revolution against the government but give very little thought to when that right vests.  Well, they say, it is extremely remote and mostly hypothetical.  And yet plenty of people keep insinuating that it just might vest if Democrats win the next election.

And they never bother to figure out the mechanism of (1) how we will know the time for violent revolution is at and and (2) when that time comes, how it will be planned and coordinated.  The assumption appears to be that We, the People will all magically agree when the time is at hand and will all spontaneously turn out at the same time, just like we did in the battle of Lexington-Concord.  Here I think insurrectionists seriously underestimate the role of existing colonial government in directing the American Revolution or the role the Founding Fathers believed state governments  would play in any hypothetical revolution against the U.S. government.  It also assumes that We, the People are much more unanimous in our views than the evidence shows, and will not (1) have isolated individuals and small groups deciding it is time for violent revolution at unpredictable intervals, or (2) end up shooting at each other if a critical mass ever does decide that the time for revolution is at hand.

I am not suggesting that people like Rand Paul condone terrorism when it is directed at the other side. But I do think they tend to downplay the threat of the militia movement, or the Bundy Ranch standoff because they have some sympathy with the members' complaints, though not their methods.  So yes, I will admit to a certain satisfaction in seeing people who defend the Second Amendment as promoting political violence maybe having second thoughts when they are the targets.

At the same time, I think it is time for our side to acknowledge that we have a serious problem here. Yes, the shooter is an extreme and aberrant example and in no way typical.  But our side really does have a violent fringe that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with.  First of all are the mask-wearing black-clad "antifascist" ("antifa") anarchists looking for any opportunity to riot, smash things, and beat people.

Well, you may say, they aren't very numerous.  No, indeed they aren't.  But the rioting anarchists are the tip of the iceberg.  The iceberg are the people who condone their goals, if not their methods.  And by their "goals," I mean shutting down opposing viewpoints.  I mean the people who try to block entrance to Trump rallies, speeches by Alt-Right speakers etc., and forcibly prevent others from attending.  So you don't like their views.  Deal with it.  They have the complete constitutional right to express them, to hold rallies and speeches, and to attend.  But what about our rights?  We have exactly the same rights.  That means the right to hold our own events, or to hold counter-demonstrations and protests.  But not to shut down theirs.

I think the leadership of our side has been reasonably clear in condemning political violence.  Bernie Sanders condemned the shooting.  Hillary Clinton and LaRaza condemned anti-Trump riots.  But we haven't been clear enough in emphasizing that the place to draw the line in political action is not just with the use of violence.  It is with the attempt to shut down opposing viewpoints.  It means making absolutely clear to our side that blocking entrances and trying to physically prevent people from attending events by speakers they don't like, even if not done "violently," is resorting to force and therefore out of line.  It means making clear that opposing viewpoints, no matter how odious, are constitutionally protected, and that that protesting a safe distance away, not forcible attempts to shut them down, are the proper response.  We need to make clear to the hard core that extreme measures just make enemies.  This should belong to the department of "Duh!" but apparently it needs to be said.

And frankly, we need to move beyond mere exhortation to the more extreme elements on our side and start to support any Republicans, conservatives, police and prosecutors who throw the book and violent rioters (without condoning the prosecution of peaceful protesters who just happen to be there). Given the threat that violent riots pose who our whole system of government, I think a ten-year sentence is entirely appropriate.  My guess is, it would also give a lot of these black-clad, mask-wearing anarchists second thoughts.  I personally also favor increasing penalties for demonstrators who do not follow reasonable "time, place and manner" restrictions on demonstrations and do things like blocking traffic.  It is perfectly possible to draw attention to your cause while keeping to the terms of your permit.  (It certainly worked for the Tea Party).

So here is what I propose.  To the other side: Stop emphasizing stockpiling guns, showing up armed at rallies, and the threat of political violence and the best safeguards of liberty.  Don't forget that you, too, can be targets.  To our side: Make clear that going too far includes a lot more than outright violence and includes any attempt to shut down opposing viewpoints.  And stop blocking traffic.

Political violence is not simply liberty at its most exuberant.  It is a mortal threat to liberty.  Let's all start dialing back on anything that might be taken as condoning it.

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