- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A lot’s been said in recent times about the dangers of fiery rhetoric, and how extreme expressions can fuel aggression and violence, leading to injuries and even death.

But let’s take a time-out and think where all this talk could lead. This is a tale of caution, particularly for conservatives, the keepers of the constitutional gate.

It’s one thing to criticize fiery rhetoric. It’s another thing entirely to demand a stop to all fiery rhetoric — to demand the government, for instance, step in and regulate it.

The left would love nothing more than to use there recent and widely-reported instances of ugly speech to further their goals of control.

One instance? Rep. Maxine Waters has come under attack recently — and rightly so — for telling her leftist base in Los Angeles to “create a crowd” wherever White House officials can be found, and “tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”



A court could determine if Waters’ rhetoric was aimed at inciting violence, and if so, she could be prosecuted. The First Amendment doesn’t protect those who willfully drum up a crowd to go commit acts of physical aggression against others. But it’s a hard case to win; one would have to prove Waters meant her words to cause somebody bodily harm. Had she simply called for resistance against Trump, as she normally does, “inciting” wouldn’t even be factor. That’s just freedom of speech. 

But another instance? Hollywood’s favorite leftist movie-maker, Michael Moore, just took to national late-night television to tell Stephen Colbert and the listening, watching audience that anti-Trumpers have to “put our bodies on the line” and get out and about to fight the conservative agenda.

Over-the-top? Yes. Hateful? Definitely. But illegal? No. 

Trump, meanwhile, just became the target, yet again, of a vicious campaign to stifle his own brand of blunt rhetoric, when in the hours after the horrid Capital Gazette shooting that left five dead and several injured he tweeted out “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and families.

Reuters editor Rob Cox responded on Twitter this way: “This is what happens when @realDonaldTrump calls journalists the enemy of the people. Blood is on your hands, Mr. President.”

Cox quickly deleted the tweet and apologized. But he wasn’t alone in painting Trump as the culprit.

Yahoo’s Mike Williams wrote, in response to a tweet from Melania Trump about sending her own thoughts and prayers to the families of the killed and injured newspaper staffers: “Your husband calls journalists the enemy and has poisoned his brainwashed fanbase against them. He’s complicit in this crime. And so are you.”

There’s more. But the general theme from many on the left was this: Trump’s speech sparked this shooting.

That’s just ridiculous, of course. The arrested suspect in this case, Jarrod Ramos, had been on Twitter attacking reporters at the newspaper for years, at one point raising concerns to the level that at least one staffer notified police.

But the bigger picture in all this media-fueled discussion about the need to tone down rhetoric is that, if we’re not careful as a country, we’re going to talk ourselves into a box of limited and regulated speech.

We’re going to come to the conclusion that all this crazy political talk is actually bringing on the violence, and we’re going to forget the true roots of aggression and hate and murder and mayhem — the condition of the human heart.

Rhetoric, no matter how fiery, is not a murder weapon. Neither is it an accessory to crime, or to criminal behavior. Not really. Speech is simply the outward display of what’s on the inside of a person. So, too, is reaction to speech. Sane people don’t listen to calls for violence and head, drone-like, to commit acts of violence. They just don’t.

In other words, criminalizing certain speech is not a valid defense system to ward off those who want to inflict harm. What is? A copy of the Bible, perhaps.

But caution is called for here. Liberals would like nothing better than to spin the proper denouncements of fiery speech into improper legal clamp-downs on a term that’s not even found in our First Amendment, “hate speech.” They’d love to act like their solving a problem, when they’re really stealing a freedom.

So let’s not let the left corrupt the conversations here and turn the ugly rantings of some, the vicious railings of others, the deceptive finger-pointings of even others into new regulations on free speech, into new legal definitions of “hate speech” that can be prosecuted in courts of law. Let’s remember: Speech is a reflection of the inner, and it’s only by addressing the inner that the outer can be changed.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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