Back when my oldest daughter was in public high school, before 9/11 but after Columbine, she told me the story of a friend -I’ll call him Baker- who brought a toaster to school as part of a project. Baker was carrying his toaster around school in a paper bag and got a little tired of classmates asking him, “What’s in the bag?” So, in a fit of adolescent pique, when yet another person asked him about the bag contents, Baker replied, “It’s my toaster bomb.”
Well, joking about having a bomb in your possession is taboo (ask anyone who travels on an airplane), so Baker was expelled from school, and ultimately required to attend another high school. Constitutional free speech principals do not, and never have, absolutely protected the advocacy of violence or other illegal acts, even as a joke.
I thought about this incident after hearing about the shootings in Tucson, Arizona this past weekend. Not since 9/11 has an incident literally made me nauseous.
I think my reaction was based in part on the fact that, like most people in this country, I have not done enough to denounce eliminationism, defined as “elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.” Wishing or suggesting that your opponent die is far different than saying something rude or obnoxious about them.
Words or imagery that suggest that people be killed or harmed have no place in American politics, even when, or perhaps especially when, they are supposed to be a joke or a satire. Killing or maiming someone is never funny. Never. And speech that advocates violence or performing a criminal act is not, nor should it be, protected or free. “There are consequences, ” as US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Tucson shooting victim, correctly stated. High school students get expelled. Politicians and political commentators seem to get applauded, though. Or maybe they’re ignored, but apparently not chastised or denounced.
If you support a candidate, political party, any public figure, or watch or listen to any commentator that uses these types of words or imagery, then you are part of the problem. I vow to never be part of the problem, and resolve never to vote for any candidate who does not denounce anyone who uses eliminationist rhetoric.
No joke, Ann. If they don’t denounce you for that, they don’t get my vote or any other support.
- Op-Ed Columnist: Climate of Hate (nytimes.com)