Does free speech encourage destructiveness? The Capitol invasion reminded me of a pack of ruggedly individualistic irrational Trump teens taunting, "I'll be back to finish this, and next time I want to have a disproportionate impact on reality and foist off the consequences onto adult taxpayers, who mop up my tantrums."
Americans should stand in solidarity to shut this down swiftly, impeach Trump, expel the fascists who won't play by the rules of democracy, and get on with having a nice country. We shouldn't let irresponsible people keep knocking over the building blocks. "So, how?" you ask. Truthful speech is only the cure for hate speech if people "hear the cure." People who tolerate endless hate speech are soon deaf to alternate views. When manipulators divide, "otherize" and cut off different views, truth can’t even penetrate the isolation.
Kind civility was once a carefully cultivated manner in America. Opposing views were tolerated. Conspiracy theories were gently rebuffed. Fundamental beliefs and truths were identical between the political parties. Individuals stayed sensitive to the deeply-held values of family members and neighbors. We all watched ABC, NBC and CBS. There was a shared integrity in our perceptions of the facts.
With the current upheaval striking at the core of our safety and confidence in the future, we seek immutable truths that cannot be manipulated by adventitious opportunists. Those who have been watching politics for a lifetime were probably first to notice as an offensive, jealous fealty became interjected to divide us. Here in Oklahoma, we have cutting horses; it is an apt analogy.
Walt Whitman said, “Re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul. …” We must each take personal responsibility for that to which we ascribe. We have a duty to the truth, lest we end up an extinct civilization, marginalized by our folly. True warriors honor truth both tender and bold – and reject tricks and folly.
Sometimes paranoia is spread through twisted misunderstandings from leaders who bundle up an army of misperceivers. Quickly and stealthily, a dissonant symphony is playing all around us —in the Capitol, on social media, and in the "news." Free speech is tempered by a duty to the truth. There is no constitutional right to spin false narratives masqueraded as “news.” Good faith and fairness are so implicit in this nation’s founding presumptions, and so much of its fabric, that no originator needed to spell that out.
In 1941, the FCC ruled that radio stations’ public interest obligations require them to neutrally report news and politics, so they must balance editorials supporting one political position or candidate by giving equal time to opposing views. In 1969, the courts revoked an FCC license for racial hate speech, holding that use of the airwaves requires fairness and balance. Today, even free cable news needn't be balanced; each station is one of a theoretically near-infinite resource unlimited by bandwidth. Cable news can be slanted. Legally.
Citizens are reluctant to let government define truth until taxpayers have to mop up Capitol damage and mourn deaths from anti-democratic anarchists. Moderates place public health and safety above mayhem, and thus condone blacking out rioters' rumors of war aimed at radicalizing dissidents.
Until the FCC curtails false, misleading, vague and incorrect information, a major class-action lawsuit would be a good checkmate to quell disreputable news companies, as it did in the tobacco and opioid lawsuits. Wacky conspiracy theories would cost more if biased sources had to offer equal time for the truth. Bankruptcy would be a strong deterrent.
Ultimately, now, it falls on readers and viewers to analyze sources, and the stakes are high. Let us hope for sensible men.
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney, and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.