- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2018

It used to be that sticks and stones would break bones, but names would never hurt.

Apparently, to the left, though, words are worse than ISIS.

“This president,” said CNN’s recent guest, Julia Ioffe, “has radicalized so many more people than ISIS ever did.”

Host Jake Tapper played deaf and dumb on the comment. Ioffe, a GQ columnist, later apologized and said in a tweet, “I absolutely should not have gone with such hyperbole on the air. I apologize.”

Well and good. But the fact this suggestion ever made national news as a serious point of debate speaks volumes about the state of this nation. It’s getting to the point where the First Amendment is being sold as dangerous.

It’s not.

Words don’t hurt. Actions do. And actions are driven much more by morality than rhetoric.

When actor James Cromwell vows that “there will be blood in the streets” if Democrats lose these looming midterms, he’s only banking on the fact that there are plenty in America right now who are willing to cast aside normal traditional values for thuggery. But this a choice of the thug, not a natural consequence of rhetoric.

When Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California calls for her crowd of adoring anti-President Donald Trumpers to get out and get in conservatives’ faces, to hound them at restaurants and make them unwelcome wherever they go — her words are only resonating with the useful idiots of the left who lack moral compass. They only have meaning to a certain low-life segment of society; they only serve as a motivator to the people without principle.

Those of sane minds and godly natures rightly denounce Waters’ words. Those of sane minds and principled natures aren’t swayed by her rhetoric to take action. They don’t listen and suddenly go, hey, what a great idea.

Historically, it’s principles not words that matter.

When Occupy Wall Street defecated in streets and kicked in store fronts in 2011; when Black Lives Matter and Hands Up, Don’t Shoot stormed streets and started fires in 2014; when Resist Trump and Impeach Trump and Women’s March Against Trump ripped off MAGA hats and engaged in angry confrontations with conservatives in 2016 — the moral masses of the nation didn’t get swept into the outlandish tides and somehow persuaded to drop their virtues, grab baseball bats and jump into the fray.

No, the virtuous denounced, derided and expressed disgust with the violence — and still do. 

Fact is, the virtuous are constrained by their virtues. The moral of nature are kept in check by their morals. 

It’s only the wicked at heart, the wicked in nature, the wicked and sick and twisted of soul who would listen to words like Waters’ utters and use them to justify thuggery in the streets.

Speaking the obvious? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

Here’s why it all matters — here’s the big pragmatic point to keep in mind: The left has been busily selling the idea that Trump has been igniting fires around the nation with his rhetoric.

The left has been busily pressing the notion that conservative speech is offensive to the point of hateful and ultimately, physically harmful.

“The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president,” said the attorney for a man facing sentencing for plotting to kill Muslim Somali refugees in Kansas, during a court hearing just this week, CNN reported. The attorney, it should be noted, was using that line of thought to explain why his murderous-minded client ought to receive a lighter sentence. It’s not his client’s fault for plotting to kill; it’s Trump’s. Trump’s rhetoric fueled the murder plot. So goes the logic.

But when such arguments are allowed to stand — when such arguments are allowed to be made unchecked and unchallenged — the final result is a demise of free speech. For all. Forever.

When such arguments are accepted as rational, the First Amendment, once a God-given, then becomes something needful of control — something to put in the hands of the government to control. This is a path America cannot walk. This a path America’s thuggish elements cannot be permitted to lead the rest of us to walk.

Whenever the argument is made that rhetoric is dangerous, those with concerns about freedom need to remember the sing-song of our youth — the taunt of sticks and stones, the mock that simple words, no matter how fiery, no matter how contentious, will not, cannot, by themselves, ever hurt. 

Actions, stemming from immoral roots, on the other hand, can and do. It’s the moral compass that matters most.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com or on Twitter, @ckchumley.

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