One Toe over the Line   Leave a comment

I’ve never really been into plays featuring political satire, but I used to be a fan of late-night comedians who poked fun at politicians and politics in general.

I don’t watch many these days. It’s just too vicious and not very funny anymore. Johnny Carson poked fun at every president, regardless of party. Jimmy Kimmel, not so much.

I am a fan of Shakespeare, however, and would love to see Julius Caesar acted live … well, except maybe not the version put on by The Public Theater for this year’s lineup of Shakespeare in the Park. In the modern retelling of the play, the theater group chose to create a clear reference to President Donald Trump as the protagonist. Some friends who live in New York saw that performance and were so shocked by the reference they left the performance.

Image result for kathy gifford trump head“I will not condone any group suggesting that we kill a sitting president,” Dorothy wrote. “I don’t support President Trump, but I won’t support treason either. Of course, they have the right to do what they want … say what they want … but I don’t have to condone it by sitting through their performance.” Dorothy and her husband, long-time devotees of theater, have decided to boycott The Public Theater, not just for this season, but for all future performances.

I’m 99% certain that Dorothy and Gene did not vote for Donald Trump. They both campaigned for Barack Obama on his first outing. I’m not sure about Dorothy, but Gene is a lifelong Democrat who ended his party affiliation when Barack Obama ran for a second term after what Gene, an accountant, thought was an economically appalling first term. He tells me he wrote-in Rand Paul on the 2016 Presidential ballot, which surprised me to no end. The man is in his 70s, changing his electoral preferences because our current system is that broken.

If this play took place in Caesar’s day, it’s likely the members of the theater group would not have lived to hear their reviews. In the weird modern-day world, the New York Times defended the play vigorously, though other media outlets have been more mixed in their response. This is part of the reason I believe we’ve reached a point, both domestically and internationally, where violence has replaced civil discourse.

Certainly the United States is no longer a society of educated (not necessarily schooled) and interested citizens willing to listen to someone else’s viewpoint without retaliating against them in violence and open displays of hatred.

I’m not fan of Milo Yiannopoulos, but I objected to the violence and suppression he faced when he traveled to Berkeley College last year. Students who took issue with Yiannopoulos’ views sought to silence him by attacking the building he was supposed to speak at along with burning objects and hurling debris. Similar behavior occurred when Ann Coulter attempted to speak there, but it also has occurred on other campuses. and even off-campus venues. I”m thinking that wearing a Trump t-shirt outside of a Trump rally is a dangerous thing to do. Universities attempting to encourage discussion of diverse perspectives now look more like totalitarian states rather than places where public discourse is encouraged.

This frightening turn of events most likely will have grave political and social ramifications. This country was founded on the principles of free speech and protection of the right of everyone to speak their minds. Is speech really free when it is designed to silence others? When does free speech become dangerous to society? And, which is more dangerous — the alternative perspectives being silenced or the speech of those trying to do the silencing?

I remember that libel and defamation lawsuits were a big deal when I was a working journalist, but I guess people have given up on countering the outrageous claims of tabloids and inflammatory speech. It appears you can effectively say anything about anyone, public or private, on any platform as long as you don’t intend to act on anything you say and so long as you don’t make someone so mad they take aggressive action against you.

Image result for berkeley riots 2017 imagesBut, hey, Kathy Griffin discovered there are a few faded lines remaining after she posted a sickening photo of President Trump’s decapitated head in her hand. The media actually did chide her for going too far. Still, 50 years ago, that sort of display would have gotten some serious attention by the Secret Service. I suspect had Ann Coulter appeared with an image of Barack Obama’s head in a similar fashion, she would have spent some time in an orange jumpsuit.

The political climate existing today is veering dangerously toward force as a means of silencing opponents rather than a culture of engagement. In an effort to enshrine toleration, a pluralistic culture has decided that the only views that should be tolerated are its own, subject to change with every alteration of their collective opinion.

Frankly, it’s a mentality seen on both the left and the right, across the media, and among voters, although there are some Trump supporters who recently showed a great deal of class. Americans increasingly see government as the means to achieve their ends and have become willing to employ its power to force others to comply.

President Gerald Ford said, “We can disagree without being disagreeable,” but nobody seems to listen to him anymore.

Kathy Griffin’s photo was disagreeable. The Public Theater group’s substitution of a Trump-esque Caesar was disagreeable. Trump supporters who punch out their opposition are disagreeable. There was a time when college students used to riot over the administration refusing to allow a speaker on campus. Now, they employ reverse censorship by silencing others through civil unrest or through public displays of murder. Through these means, they exercise their ability to promote censorship of these individuals and their ideals. And that is incredibly disagreeable.

Aristotle once said, “Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms.” We may be nearing despotism. When people produce public displays of ‘staged’ murder of any American citizen, we are all at risk. Anyone associating with that person has been given a message as to how they and their views are seen. 63 million people voted for Donald Trump. Surely, Kathy Griffin and The Public Theater company don’t want to see them dead too? Or do they?

This is the important question that bears asking. Leaders represent the views of the people who vote for them. We have a framework in this country for the peaceful transition of power and we have enshrined such civil rights as the right to peaceful protest and removal from office by vote. The founders knew there would be people of varying political sentiment living in America. Their design was not for open acts of violence to represent how opposing political viewpoints are viewed.

American and global civil discourse is at a crossroads. We can either accept that violence will rule how we interact with others both from behind the protection of our computer screens or openly in the public square or we can decide to rein in intolerance in the name of tolerance.

Once these types of acts become mainstream it is not long before societies devolve into chaos. Liberty-minded individuals know the power of civil public discourse and education. That is how we spread the ideals of freedom. We must start championing these values. We need to end the violence and hatred before a despot decides to end it for us.

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