Vitriol is not political discourse



I read Mr. Stephen Kent’s article in the January 20 Rhode Island Catholic with keen interest because I’ve been brought to his conclusions by my own recent experiences.

Having had an avid interest in politics from the years of John F. Kennedy through John McCain, I’ve always believed in freedom of speech. I choose my candidates by their approach to problems rather than specific issues and I listen carefully when a politician speaks. When I chose John McCain I did so because he seemed a thoughtful man with a depth of experience to bring to office. I didn’t agree with him on every issue. My friends tend to be more issue oriented and we argue all sides. The First Amendment is a good thing because it can soften an extreme which strengthens the whole democracy.

Lately, though, things have gotten out of hand. For the first time, I reprimanded one of my cousins when she voiced her views because she frightened me with her emphasis on hate, overthrow, and violence. I reminded her that there are laws against such threatening speech and more importantly the government is duly elected by the will of all the people, not just a few extremists. She must respect our wishes.

My cousin follows Glenn Beck. I’ve heard of people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, and others. I have never, until now, thought of them as anything except pure entertainment, their extreme, poorly thought out, off-the-wall ideas being laughable rather than thought provoking. Imagine my surprise when I realized my cousin took this vitriol seriously, agrees with it, and, worse, applies her overactive imagination to the already inflammatory words, spreading this nonsense to anyone who listens.

There seem to be more and more people like my cousin and it’s time for the rest of us to set things straight. No one should be contributing to a climate of extreme, violent ideas under the protection of the First Amendment. This is wrong. Politicians, writers, talk show hosts, teachers, and others in the public eye have a responsibility to watch their words. Anyone listening to them can be taken in by their rhetoric. Naïve, over-imaginative, unstable, and deranged minds are susceptible to the glorification of guns and violence.

As for the rest of us - what does the escalating explosive climate say about those of us who ignore, or dismiss it? We are responsible too. Silence is acquiescence. We’ve been quiet too long. We, as citizens, must discourage such discourse wherever we find it. We must watch our words, and equally important, we must watch others, too, and respond accordingly. I’m starting today.

Patricia Healey