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During times of election transition in Washington D.C., there are usually periods of adjustment as both parties jockey to find new footing in the shifting balance of power. To the surprise of no one this election cycle, these loyal party members have needed virtually no adjustment time in adopting their brand new set of long held principles. Things people hated they now suddenly support, and things they supported, they now seemingly deeply oppose.
One of the reasons I like our political system under the Constitution is that it largely succeeds in taking away emotion and treats everyone the same, under a standard set of rights. These rights don’t change as new presidents enter the White House, and they are, by design, very hard to adjust, add or remove.
The Women’s March in D.C. (that didn’t welcome all women) had an incident occur that I found particularly disturbing. While being interviewed by the Australian Broadcast Corporation, Richard Spencer had just denied being a Neo-Nazi and was answering a question about his Pepe the Frog pin when he was sucker punched by a passing protester.
I want to be clear that I think Richard Spencer is a vile white nationalist that has said many horrific things about race. I certainly do not agree with his opinions, and I find them offensive, as would most people.
During the march, Spencer was simply being interviewed when he was assaulted. People cheered on social media afterwards and implied that violence is an acceptable response to being offended. I’m here to tell you that this is exactly the wrong opinion to own. One only needs to consider that Spencer could conduct a KKK rally, march a group right down Mainstreet USA while speaking his beliefs and still be well within his rights.
America allows all forms of political speech, not just the types that we personally agree are correct. He was exercising his rights when someone punched him. The knee jerk reaction from the Cro-Magnon populace was to cheer blindly. These patriots claim that there’s no place for hate, and they profess that punching Nazis is good.
But was Spencer being hateful when he was punched? Was this violent reaction revenge for his past comments or a reaction to what he was saying during the interview? Do we want to hold people accountable for their past actions and beliefs that we find personally offensive, while overlooking their current views?
Be careful when you answer that question and pause to consider President Trump is the first President to publicly approve of gay marriage upon entering office. Should the president that signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law get a face punch for supporting this type of hate based legislation? Can you perceive the massive amount of subjectivity that needs to be applied in order to maintain political party allegiance?
The idea that punching someone in the face for having political views we disagree with is fine, as long as you agree with the puncher. But what happens when Steve Bannon is the one with the fis,t and he decides you’re the one with the offensive opinion? If you remember nothing from this column, remember this: Politics is a tit for tat game, and the pendulum always swings back.
That inevitable pendulum swing is what I fear next. Should Nazis be punched? What about Nazi supporters or sympathizers? How about people that hear offensive Nazi speech but don’t immediately disavow? Should people that write columns professing Richard Spencer has a right to share his political views be beaten? Who is safe when the rules of violence are entirely subjective and ripe for abuse through partisan objectives?
When one side understands that punching offensive people is acceptable, it won’t be long before we see this one sided justification play out at a flag burning rally that others find deeply offensive. We’ll see a pro-life crusader get offended at an abortion clinic and take action. What about punching someone that calls for the harming of police at a Black Lives Matter event?
The problem here is that we are allowing people to subjectively decide whether or not violence is acceptable as a response to being offended. When we start parsing speech into different categories, we are on a fast road to everyone parsing speech in their own convenient manner. What starts out with the best of intentions inevitably is used as a tool to silence others. In order to prevent the silencing of SOME speech, we much allow ALL political speech to thrive.
In the context of free political speech, what Richard Spencer was saying at the time is irrelevant but his right to speak his opinion free of violence isn’t. What happened to "I don’t like your opinion but I’ll fight for your right to say it"? This philosophy is hard to put into practice and illustrates the tremendous hold partisan politics currently have on our principles.
Hard rights are the best rights because they force us to remove our personal feelings from the equation. They require us to examine them in a vacuum and absent of the types of partisan influence that cloud our judgments. If we desire to have a future America where rights are subjective-free and will still apply equally to all, then you must support all rights for all Americans, even the ones you strongly are personally against.
John Mumper is married with two young daughters. He was born in Wisconsin and grew up on various types of farms throughout the state. John was educated at UW-Whitewater with degrees in Political Science and History and has traveled extensively throughout the world.
Today, he works closely with various types and sizes of manufacturers and building products suppliers as an outside salesman. In his spare time, he enjoys the Milwaukee Brewers, Green Bay Packers, politics and brewing his own powerful beers.