Did our parents lie to us? They made us recite and believe: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words... " Of course, we know the rest of our childhood mantra. Words do hurt.
We must be held accountable for our thoughts expressed in both verbal and written form. While we can spend time arguing the nuances of our constitutional right to freedom of speech, I have now reached a point -- with all deliberate speed -- that some of the speech, the "messaging," and the lies, should fall under an exception of freedom of speech. So, the question is how do we begin to change the tide on what has now become common practice in our 2012 political discourse? How do we foster accountability for political speech? Because simply put: words matter. And words have been particularly important during this year's presidential election cycle.
The fallout of the Citizens United ruling, which makes political spending a form of protected speech, creates a political climate that tries hard to tell us "if we can buy this air time, we can tell you anything." Our current climate overtly National Enquirer-izes political campaigning and does so at a tremendous cost. In spite of the recent SCOTUS opinion or the subsequent interpretations by super Political Action Committees (PACs) all over the land, the American people, in large part, rejected the very notion of pay-to-play campaigns that coast their way down Pennsylvania Avenue on lies and try to buy their way through the White House doors. Words matter.
Case after case before the Supreme Court of the United States of America from Brandenberg v. Ohio to Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association articulates the protections, limitations, and exceptions of our First Amendment rights. The exceptions to freedom of speech are clear -- namely, speech that incites violence is NOT constitutionally protected speech, but there is an unspoken pass for political speech (that far exceeds the protection offered for spending). I wish the exception extended to lies that intentionally cause division in an already immensely frustrated, split country -- a country where unemployment abounds especially if you are a young black or brown person. A country where the privileged and entitled few wage war on the many more who lack resources to be able to survive with adequate healthcare, SNAP benefits, financial aid for college, Social Security, and Medicare. A country where hard fought battles to achieve civil rights and voting rights is an ongoing challenge decades after the passage of bills bearing their names and despite the ever-presence of the vestiges of slavery. Words matter.
And yet, on the afternoon of Election Day, I found myself responding to a tweet from Donald Trump claiming an "Obama supporter" pulled a gun on a poll watcher in Detroit despite no mention in the article about whom the individual supported. Read between the lines (here are the lines: Donald Trump wants you to believe the man was black and that "the blacks" all support Obama especially in Detroit).
Later that night, I declined to re-engage the Trumpster when he went to Twitter to call for a revolution because he believed the country was going to hell in a handbasket with a second Obama term.
The exact quotes are as follows:
We can't let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!
Then, Trump on the Electoral College:
"a disaster for a democracy ... a total sham and a travesty."
Trump on revolution:
"We should have a revolution in this country!"
And finally, Trump on revolution, part two:
"More votes equals a loss...revolution!"
Fed up Americans turned to the Internet to express their frustration with Trump's behavior and dangerous rhetoric by signing a petition requesting Macy's to end their relationship with the billionaire. Nevertheless, Macy's CEO, Terry Lundgren, stated in pertinent part to "express personal opinions... is the nature of a free society." At this point, I am confident that Americans are frustrated enough to make sure the petition with more than 620,000 signatures worth of buying power makes its ways to Macy's Inc.'s Board of Directors. Why? Because words matter and have consequences (and sometimes, even monetary consequences).
Also on Election Night, Karl Rove, former Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff during the George W. Bush Administration, began his meltdown while functioning as an on-air pundit on FOX and later went to Twitter to claim the President of the United States was responsible for suppressing the vote, thereby stealing the election. The sheer irony of Karl Rove making these assertions when he was very well aware of the carefully orchestrated efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Koch Brothers, American Crossroads (mind you, SuperPACs are deserving of their own article) and some of the state legislators who were so pressed to introduce voter ID measures that some left ALEC's name on the bottom of the template bill. Words matter.
Now there's Governor Mitt Romney. Romney, who despite the reality that people had immense challenges connecting with him because of his more than robotic nature and his desire to bring Bain Capital practices (side note: they have to consider a name change after this election because of the damage done to their brand by Romney and friends) to Big Bird and PBS vis-a-vis firing and layoffs. He also had tremendous problems with consistency and honesty, which was appropriately labeled "Romnesia" by President Barack H. Obama. Romney decided to take his foot-in-mouth challenges about four steps too far when he claimed our president won the election because of "gifts" to Blacks, Latinos, women, and young people (I am unsure why he left out Asians who voted for the president at an even higher rate than Latinos).
"In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups," he stated on a call with donors last Wednesday. "With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift."
Check out the audio from the call here.
Many of us, attempting to laugh off the offensive nature of these remarks, immediately discussed looking all over the place for these invisible gifts! Ironically, there were no promised "gifts." We voted because we believed that President Obama knows the importance of protecting justice and equality for all Americans. Words matter.
Enter the young lady from California, Denise Helms, who took to Facebook to post the following:
"And another 4 years of the n****, maybe he will get assassinated this term..!!"
While no genealogy test has linked her to former Senator Jesse Helms, she has certainly embraced some of his ideals -- and arguably, much worse. The 22-year-old female inspired by people she admires and respects, perhaps unwittingly took her Facebook post too far, later defended that same post, and as a result, lost her job at Cold Stone Creamery. Words matter.
And then enter the Maine Republican Party Chair, Charlie Webster who sees a lot of rural black voters at a polling location and decides that must mean improprieties at the polls in Maine. He apologized, but then began defending his remarks again. Later, he claimed his remarks were not discriminatory because:
"There's nothing about me that would be discriminatory. I know black people. I play basketball every Sunday with a black guy. He's a great friend of mine. Nobody would ever accuse me of suggesting anything," he said. "What I do suggest is that same-day voter registration without voter ID is pretty hard to police, and it's odd that hundreds of people in a small town would show up."
Sigh... words matter.
Then of course we have the more than 675,000 jackholes (er...petitioners) that began requesting secession from the United States of America through the White House's online petition system entitled, "We the People." Here's a portion of the first submitted secession plan from Louisiana:
"peacefully grant the State of Louisiana to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government."
While these secession requests will never be given legitimate consideration, we must address the dangerous rhetoric that has led a portion of our nation's citizenry to this negative place. We, America, cannot continue to allow the propaganda of fear to dominate the political conversation. Secession from the USA by the largest takers of federal funding and the smallest contributors, Super PACs and their inability to purchase the White House, "the blacks" voting en masse which means they must be committing voter fraud, and the meltdowns by Rove and Trump are all examples of the politics of fear inciting anger (even violence when you consider the AZ woman who attempted vehicular homicide on her husband who failed to vote, so she blamed President Obama's victory on him) and dominating the increasingly bitter conversation amongst many conservatives.
Fear that exacerbates the dialogue because everyday white people are becoming more of a minority in the United States of America. Fear because folks have been led to believe that "illegals" are stealing their jobs. Fear because we have a black president who won a second term and does not necessarily have to tread as lightly on issues impacting people of color as he did during his first term. Fear because we have a black Attorney General who feverishly protected voting rights and civil rights for all of us despite the attempted character assassination by House Republicans earlier this year. Fear because the Democratic Caucus in the United States House of Representatives is now more women and people of color than white. Fear because America elected more women to the Senate than ever before in the history of this country. Fear because I am (and I am not alone) for the second time in my adult life proud to be a young, Christian African American woman in the USA.
That same fear has been the security blanket for some conservatives who continue to excuse away this election by calling the President everything from a liar to a cheat. They continue to blame the victor all the while failing to look at the "man (or loser) in the mirror" and carefully examine what nearly every person of color in their party is saying: we are NOT connecting with diverse communities. We are NOT speaking to them. We do NOT have a relationship with them, we "visit" them when it's time for them to vote. We do NOT listen to their concerns. We have NOT evolved to address the issues of a more diverse, complex America. The Republican ideals as articulated throughout the primary and general elections are antiquated and do NOT connect with the majority of Americans. The consequences? An L. Why? Because words matter and more people voted their interests...as it turns out the folks Mitt Romney discounted on "the low" equaled more than 47 percent of the electorate (about 51 percent or 332 electoral votes or 62,615,406 popular votes and counting... okay, okay! Some of these folks don't fall within that 47 percent, but I am confident they are related to someone who is).
Our parents did not lie to us. They attempted to teach us a very important lesson about internalizing what people say and allowing their words to cause us harm. We cannot be accountable for anyone else's actions -- only our own. Words will never hurt us if we don't allow them. The problem is: that's a lot easier said than done. I wish our parents told us to be mindful of the words we speak because they can adversely impact people directly and indirectly. We don't need the Supreme Court to tell us that words matter and if we are not careful, they can have unintended consequences. Let us move forward by getting rid of the lies, by being accountable for the words we speak and the actions we take, and by purging our mouths of the hyper-partisan rhetoric that does little to guide our great nation towards real, meaningful solutions. I beseech you therefore brethren (and sistren) to tell your family, friends, colleagues, and enemies to use their words (and their subsequent actions) in a manner that brings about positive change. I fully expect to continue to be proud of my country and I look forward to the day where that same pride and honor extends to our political discourse -- because words matter.
We should ponder the lyrics from Nat King Cole's Straighten Up and Fly Right:
Ain't no use in divin'
What's the use of jivin'
Straighten up and fly right
Cool down, papa, don't you blow your top.