Editor's Note: At first glance, this topic of political discourse seems far removed from the small-shipment industry. However, industry expert, political strategist, and Washington lobbyist Dan Moll will be presenting a session at the 2017 PARCEL Forum, in which he shares his thoughts on how the current landscape in Washington could affect parcel shippers in various ways. Here, he shares his thoughts on political rhetoric as an introduction to his background and political expertise. Join him at the 2017 PARCEL Forum to hear his insight into how the current administration could affect parcel shippers.
A series of incidents has spurred recent debate as to whether the freedom of speech guaranteed under the First Amendment should have greater constraints, especially regarding political rhetoric that allegedly causes violence. The U.S. Supreme Court has traditionally sanctioned very few exceptions to the First Amendment. The categories of speech that fall outside of its protection include: child pornography, obscenity, and incitement to violence, defamation and true threats of violence. Protests and rioting is not the answer to someone whose views you find offensive, more free speech is the answer, not less. A diversity of ideas makes us all stronger.
The nature of political discourse is often crass, filled with personal insults, name-calling and occasionally violent imagery. Is the solution to this, restricting the freedom of speech that is so important to the core of our Country that it was established in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution in 1791? The ugliness of debate in America is not dangerous, not a threat to individual liberty, but a sign of our freedom and the greatness of democracy.
Some editorials have placed the responsibility of a recent shooting on the doorstep of inflammatory political rhetoric as the inspiration for the deranged. Earlier this summer a number of Members of Congress were at baseball practice one morning in Alexandria, Virginia, when a lone gunman open fired severely injuring the Majority Whip of the House of Representatives and others. The shooter had a list of Republican Members of Congress that he was apparently targeting. The shooter was a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer distraught over the election of Donald J. Trump and actions taken by the new Administration.
Popular comedian Kathy Griffin appeared in a photo shoot with a grotesque, bloody fake severed head of President Trump in what she said was an “artistic statement.” After the President tweeted that his 11-year old son Barron was “traumatized,” Griffin held a news conference in which she cried, vowed revenge, claimed she was the victim and was being bullied by the Trump family. Although in bad taste, First Amendment scholars believe this falls under the category of protected political speech. Despite this, some have claimed further restrictions on this type of speech are necessary.
The New York Times claimed that a mass murderer was inspired to commit violence by a political advertisement sponsored by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. A sidewalk outside a grocery store in Arizona was the scene in 2011 of a tragic attack on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, in which 13 people were shot and six died. The “Congress on your Corner” event was an opportunity for constituents to meet and speak directly with their representatives.
The blame for all these incidents was inflamed political rhetoric according to some, and the solution is to restrict speech, and particularly what is referred to as “hate speech.” Hate speech is defined as speech that offends, threatens or insults groups, and is protected by the First Amendment. The origin of freedom of speech dates to the English Charter of 1215, the Magna Carta.
The current system pits Democrats versus Republicans in a struggle over the role the Federal government should play in our daily lives. This often results in a highly emotional debate causing hard feelings on both sides. Standard procedure in political debate has one side claiming that the opposition is going to destroy the Republic with its policies. The current state of discourse seems to be cloaked ever more frequently in talk that the world is ending.
In a landmark case, the Supreme Court affirmed the concept of freedom of assembly and speech in National Socialist Party of America versus Village of Skokie, Illinois in 1977. The ruling found that a neo-Nazi’s group right to march, and wear swastikas, in a town populated by Holocaust survivors was protected by the First Amendment.
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in a recent case stated:
[The idea that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans based on the race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”
So instead of listening, asking tough questions, and offering strong rebuttals students close their minds and hide behind trendy newly manufactured developments on campus to protect those easily offended by perceived slights. So-called “safe spaces” are being created on campuses where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives inconsistent with their own. The rigors of academic life should not be limited so as to protect those being depicted as coddled and fragile.
Now back to the three incidents that have resulted in the call for greater restrictions in the freedom of expression. The comedian Kathy Griffin received a perfect free-market sanctioned punishment for her supercilious behavior; all of her scheduled performances were cancelled by the promoters and her gig as the co-host of CNN’s annual New Year’s Eve broadcast was terminated. Although I am sure she received the obligatory call from the Secret Service—threatening the President is a Class E Felony—in the end her First Amendment rights were retained. She will have more time to contemplate those rights over the coming months.
The atrocity in Arizona was an attack by an individual with mental illness who was originally ruled incompetent to stand trial. The shooting in Virginia ended as the shooter sustained fatal gunshot wounds at the hands of the Capitol Hill Police. These cases cannot be laid on the doorstep of anyone’s political rhetoric. It is not a matter of right or left, or the current level of political discourse, violence is going to happen.
Violence is becoming more and more prevalent on campuses across America as intolerance, as opposed to the traditional exchange of opposing ideas becomes the order of the day. In a strange and weird turn of events, colleges are no longer the place where you think, learn, open your mind to competing points of view and students challenge themselves to a free exchange of philosophies. Conservative speakers have been met with protests and violence at a number of college campuses.
Are constraints needed to address inflamed political rhetoric and violence? The bedrock principle of the First Amendment is that speech may not be banned on the grounds that it expresses ideas that offend. Clamping down on offensive speech is a bad idea; you actually expose more people to it.
Dan Moll spent 20 years on Capitol Hill as a senior Congressional staffer. Moll worked for seven Members of Congress and four Committees and is well versed in the intersection of policy, politics, the legislative process and parliamentary procedure. Moll is the Founder and President of Moll Strategies, LLC.