Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was accosted and spat on by hecklers at a Cineplex. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, along with her family, were denied service at a restaurant, and her relatives were subsequently subjected to an impromptu demonstration orchestrated by the restaurant’s owner. Cabinet secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, director of Homeland Security, was harassed by screaming hecklers at a restaurant and outside her home. President Donald Trump’s son Baron was made the suggested subject of pedophilic assault, in a public televised statement by actor Peter Fonda (son of iconic American actor Henry Fonda).
On a less confrontational note, House candidate Lena Epstein’s fundraiser at the Franklin Hills Country Club in Michigan was canceled, by the club’s board, because of her political beliefs—after the club held a fundraiser for her opponent. This was followed by a bullying rant on social media by Michael Simon, the son of the club’s former president. Simon said Epstein had been asked to relocate the fundraiser rather than “bring her brand of toxic xenophobia” to the venue.
After Hollywood actor Seth Rogen’s insults of Paul Ryan, made in front of Ryan’s devastated children, Rogen recounted the incident as enthusiastic fodder for talk show host Steve Colbert. Rogen said that he insulted the speaker of the House, “[and] I look over, and his kids are still standing right there.” The rude behavior was not sufficient for Rogen––he found it necessary to beat his chest and announce to the world his display of “moral courage.”
CNN and MSNBC commentators justify these acts. CNN’s Jake Tapper calls it “speaking truth to power.” Yet, does anyone know what that means? I have heard this expression used frequently over the years, but it has never seemed to have any true meaning. It is used generally by small intellects, of all political persuasions, to whom it sounds good, giving them the false impression that they’re saying something profound, when they are actually not saying anything at all—and certainly not anything with any depth. CNN commentator Ana Navarro stated that “actions have consequences,” seemingly implying that Bondi et al had brought the harassment upon themselves, that they were asking for it.
It doesn’t take much imagination to speculate what the reaction would have been to identical treatment had it been directed to members of the Obama White House, at restaurants at the Cineplex and in front of their homes: no rationalizations, no talk of truth to power. Calls for arrests would have been more likely.
The incapacity of young adults (and some greyhairs as well) to engage in public debate, and the lack of experience with free and open exchange of ideas, has brought public discourse to a level that neither Orwell nor Huxley could have imagined.
The acceptable norms for reacting to opposing views have changed drastically in just four decades. First came the use of reason. Respond to ideas with which one disagrees with cogent argument—persuasion through civil debate.
This was replaced by shutting one’s ears. Ignore, pay no mind to politics and social justice—the “Me Generation” of the ’80s.
Then, an inexorable squeezing of First Amendment free speech rights, with a pretense of maintaining the right—with limitations, of course. No “harmful” speech allowed. No bullying. No speech that can “hurt feelings.”
Then, make noise and distract, with the Occupy Movement and Antifa on the left, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis on the right. Groups whose members share personality traits and have more in common with each other than they do with the rest of the population. They are intolerant and rigidly adherent to simplistic and hateful ideologies, and they resort to violence as a first response to those who hold differing beliefs.
Related is the tearing down of “offensive” statues, monuments to soldiers who fought for an army that, while defending an abhorrent practice—the treatment of humans as chattel––was in essence divided from its opponent based on geographic lines. And what is most likely unbeknownst to many of the statue desecrators is that many of the targeted warriors did not support the institution of slavery, including Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
Silencing the past, re-writing history—these are the first steps toward fascism and tyranny, and a move toward silencing the present.
Today, we see open harassment of those who do not share the same opinions. Officious intermeddlers, once merely peevish and annoying exceptions to the rule, are now a majority. They are not just tolerated, but openly encouraged by some senior members of Congress, such as Maxine Waters, with her call: “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”
What these “hecklers” do not begin to appreciate is that they can behave despicably only because they live in the most free, advanced, and open society in the world. It is precisely thanks to the Constitution, of which they are ignorant, that they can express their beliefs free from the risk of retribution.
Were they to express their beliefs in such a manner in China (think Tiananmen Square) they would be imprisoned for decades. In Saudi Arabia or Turkey or Egypt, they would face torture and dungeons. In Russia, the gulag. In Cuba and Venezuela, oblivion. In the Congo or Central African Republic, beheading.
The irony is staggering. Thanks to those freedoms and rights, defended by those they despise––moderates and conservatives, dedicated to constitutional principles––they can act out their juvenile fantasies of militant action.
Marc Ruskin, a 27-year veteran of the FBI, is a regular contributor and the author of “The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI.” He served on the legislative staff of U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.