Nature v. Nurture

This century has not been kind to the American system of justice.  It has been accused of being two-tiered.  At times, it defies logic, as in the case of Kyle Rittenhouse.  Yesterday, we learned that “law and order” is not the only American value which is applied depending on who you are, not what you do.

Case in point, Senator Tom Cotton (MAGA-Arkansas).  On May 10, 2023, Cotton introduced the Campus Free Speech Restoration Act, which according to his accompanying press release, “protects the First Amendment rights of students at public universities from unconstitutional speech codes and so-called free speech zones.”  Among the provisions of the proposed legislation are (again from his press release):

  • Prohibit public colleges from restricting free speech and expression on campus.
  • Create a cause of action in federal court for the Attorney General or other parties to challenge restrictions on speech and expression on campus.
  • Make sure the requirements of the Act do not apply to colleges and universities controlled by religious institutions.

Okay, the First Amendment promotes free expression.  And anyone violating another’s right to free expression should be subject to due process for alleged violations.  But seriously Senator, if a student at Notre Dame University accuses the head football coach of being an overpaid incompetent, you’re okay if the Board of Trustees determines such blasphemy is punishable by suspension or expulsion.  But religious exemptions for rules that apply to everyone else is a matter for a different day.

Why?  Because yesterday the distinguished gentleman* from Arkansas took a quite different approach when it came to protesters in four U.S. cities who blocked highways to express their disapproval of what they believe is a disproportionate Israeli response to October 7 and support for a Palestinian State.

You have to get to these criminals early.  If something like this happened in Arkansas on a bridge there, let’s say there would be an awful lot of wet criminals tossed overboard, not by law enforcement, but by people whose road they were blocking.  If they glued their hands to car or pavement, well, pretty painful to have their skin ripped off, but I think that’s the way we would handle it in Arkansas.  And I’d encourage people anywhere, who get stuck behind criminals like this who are trying to block traffic, to take matters into their own hands.  It’s time to put an end to this nonsense.

Now I understand people might get upset when a protest inconveniences them.  But in the MAGA universe, peaceful protesters are “criminals,” and violent protesters on January 6th are “patriots” and “hostages.”  And where was Tom Cotton when New Jersey authorities shut down the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee mayor Mike Sokolich for not supporting Governor Chris Christie’s bid for reelection?  Or when neo-Nazis blocked downtown streets in Nashville?  Or when “The People’s Convoy” blocked access to Washington, D.C. to protest COVID-19 restrictions? In other words, when Tom Cotton encourages people to attack protesters, he makes a clear distinction between “my people” and “you people.”

And so much for due process.  Cotton might as well have been one of the faux federales in John Huston’s  1927 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “We don’t need no stinking charges.  Or stinking trials. Or stinking judges and juries.”  Just imagine if pro-Israel Christian nationalists were blocking a roadway in Dearborn, Michigan preventing the city’s large Muslim population from access to their mosque.  Does anyone believe Cotton would approve of Muslim vigilantes tossing them over the Miller-Rotunda Bridge?

All of this aside, I once again was struck by an observation by Joe Scarborough.  He prefaced his comment by acknowledging his personal friendship with Tom Cotton’s parents before adding, “I know they did not raise him to be like this.”  Based on that information, it is highly unlikely the senator’s warped perspective on American justice is attributable to familial DNA.  Which brings me back to the title of today’s post.  How many Americans, who 10 years ago would be appalled by Cotton’s call for vigilante violence, now support his message and might even participate in the equivalent of modern day lynchings?

This November was already a choice between clear alternatives.  Democracy v. Autocracy.  Allegiance to the Constitution v. Personality Cult.  National Security through Global Alliances v. Isolationism.  As someone who believes in the adage, “Children are not born with hate; someone teaches us to hate,” I now attribute a propensity toward political violence as largely a question of environment, an environment normalized by the MAGA Party.  So add one more item to the list of choices.  Due Process v. Vigilantism.  One presidential candidate calls for retribution and beating the hell out of people.  The other tells us, “We can be better than that.”

Given the choice between “Rip their skin off” or “That’s not who we are,”  I trust most Americans will eventually opt to be members of Team Better Than That.

*”Distinguished gentleman” is Congressional parlance for “son of a bitch.”

For what it’s worth.