Bishop: Discourse on Discourse – Separating Word & Actions

Thursday, June 22, 2017


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People believe things. It is not any mystery that they tend to believe things that reinforce the way they see the world. Following my embrace of Trump’s rejection of the Paris climate treaty I was chided by a friend on Facebook who quoted Stephen Covey: “we see the world not as it is, but as we are”. Just So as Rudyard Kipling might have said. The oddity is that folks who favor Paris don’t imagine that this bit of Covey’s business beatitudes applies to them as well . . .

People are passionate. The roots of passion and the roots of the word are in suffering. They didn’t call it the passion of Christ for nothing. Add to that that our country is confounded – or blessed – to be somewhat equally divided in our passions and some see a recipe for violence.

Indeed, this political division is the very source of suffering for many who have now decided to resist. Such reactionary despondence is no mystery to those of us who have been in resistance . . . eer opposition . . . for the previous eight years. Neither is the convenience of labeling passionate arguments as incitement rather than invective in an effort to censor them.

The temptation is great, now that the shoe is on the other foot, to jump to the conclusion that progressive obsession lead directly to the shooting of Republican Steve Scalise and others at a congressional softball practice. Yet some conservatives argue that the backlash against the Trump victory has become tantamount to shouting fire in a crowded theater and such passion ought to censored. But this is just a rewarmed version of the allegation that conservative angst over Obama’s election fostered the shooting of Democrat Gabby Giffords. It wasn’t true then and its not true now.

Can you identify which of these quotes is Paul Krugman after the Tuscon shooting and which Sean Hannity following the softball practice assault?:

“When politicians continue to dehumanize opponents and paint them as monsters day in and day out, year in and year out, the climate around the country, becomes more than toxic, and the tragic results, of course, follow.”

“The shooter appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

When blowhards on both sides say the same thing when their ox isn’t being gored, does that mean a truth has been established? It’s more likely that they are both taking advantage of circumstances and both wrong?

Of course our political discourse is subject to censure, i.e., strong disagreement, rather than the censor. Disagreement can be courteous but that isn’t always the hallmark of our political culture. Strong disagreement, after all, implies passion. The strength of arguments is not theoretically altered by their civility. Perhaps rhetoric is more persuasive if its nature convinces someone to listen in the first place. But many people speak not to convince others, but to rally those who agree, or simply because they have the power to do so. And the very nature of the power is provocative – some might say hateful.

Yet, as the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously this week, there is no ‘hate speech’ exception to the first amendment. Thus the patent and trademark office was wrong to reject the band “the Slants” when they tried to register their name (and just as likely be protected are registration for everything from the Washington Redskins to the gangsta rap group Niggaz Wit Attitude).

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Now, the world has a habit of referring to that band as N.W.A. So there is such a thing as self-censorship. And there are also degrees of self-censure. These are both habits that lend civility to public discourse. By way of self-censure, Bernie Sanders disavowed violence in the wake of reports that the softball shooter had been a follower and campaign volunteer. Sanders wasn’t responsible for what happened. Some might have advised him not to fuel accusations he was by speaking up. But that would just leave for people to fill in the blanks that this is what the left means when they say ‘by any means necessary’. Sanders’ calls for unprecedented action are not invitations to violence, he is looking for unprecedented civic engagement.

This kind of problem also confounds American Muslims. There are some notable Muslim organizations that confront terror and intolerance carried on in the name of Islam. But these efforts are not particularly widespread, as noted earlier this month when a small group of Muslims demonstrating against violence after the London attacks was stage managed by CNN to create a photo op. No mass movement this.

Muslims aren’t responsible to create an enormous backlash to Islamic terrorism. But if they do not, they leave themselves open to the question of whether they support it. They can act put upon that they should have to stand up for their religion because of the aberrant actions of a minority, suggesting that they are the victims of guilt by association. Or they can recognize that guilt by association is human nature and simply keeping their heads down is not an option. This has long been apparent to we embittered rural voters who cling to our guns or religion. Well, we know which religion Obama was talking about, and it wasn’t Islam.

Indeed, prolife advocates have every need, when some whack job goes and shoots abortion doctors, to decry such behavior, just as strongly as they decry abortion itself. A civil society does not solve its discord in this manner.

A friend and onetime Rhode Islander, Ken Ward, will be sentenced this week for burglary for breaking into a pipeline facility in Anacortes, WA and closing a valve to halt the flow of tar sands oil because he is exercised about climate change. There is, of course, no difference between his claims that a crime can be necessary to prevent a greater harm and those same claims by anti-abortion radicals.

Ward did not kill anyone. But his crime is more serious than the Bundy gang, sagebrush rebels who were equally exercised about how the government was treating the world. Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and followers occupied a wildlife refuge building that nobody was using for a month. While I sympathize more with the Bundy’s grievances, Oregon’s Governor was right to observe: “The occupation of the Malheur Reserve did not reflect the Oregon way of respectfully working together to resolve differences”.

Those familiar with farm life will know that occasionally one cow will push another through the fence, rather then brave the electric shock themselves. But people have self-determination. They are not pushed across the line by the words of others.

There can be a close divide between militant self-determination, a respected American trait, and outright lawlessness. It should not be our habit to decry activism and to suppress ideas because that line could conceivably be crossed. We punish those who cross the line, not those who walk up to it.


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Brian Bishop is on the board of OSTPA and has spent 20 years of activism protecting property rights, fighting overregulation and perverse incentives in tax policy. 


Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump Withdrawing from Paris Climate Agreement

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Gina Raimondo

RI Governor

I am deeply disappointed that the President has decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that the Paris Agreement is about so much more than climate change. It’s about opportunity, stewardship and America’s standing as a global leader. 

President Trump’s action will not deter Rhode Island from taking necessary steps to address climate change. Our action at the state level will create new jobs and attract new investment in the green economy. 

We’ve set a goal to secure 1,000 MW of clean energy resources and double the number of clean energy jobs by 2020. Ocean State families and businesses are on the front lines fighting climate change. I will continue toward with the General Assembly and partners in other states to protect our environment and advance clean energy alternatives, while creating new opportunities for our workforce in the process. 

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

President Trump’s ill-considered decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement puts the future of our entire planet at risk. The withdrawal represents an abandonment of pledges to protect our environment and risks undermining the entire accord, which includes nearly every country on earth. In addition, the President’s action cedes Unites States leadership and means losing a seat at the table to negotiate global agreements in our country's best interest.

The Obama Administration made significant progress toward slowing the rapidly warming climate by negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions on a global scale. Unwinding these commitments represents another assault by President Trump on the health of the public and the planet. His Administration continues to deny climate change despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows this is an ongoing human-caused crisis.

Rhode Island is on the front lines of sea level rise, and our citizens will ultimately pay the price for inaction today. Communities like my hometown of Warwick are particularly vulnerable to the storms and floods that come with climate change. Warming seas have chased our traditional catch out of our fisheries and threaten to decimate our beloved Ocean State coastline. Abandoning the Paris deal, the culmination of a multi-year effort by world leaders, is an abdication of our responsibility to leave the world a better place for our children.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse

U.S. Senator

“Donald Trump and his children said just a few years ago that climate change was ‘irrefutable’ and its consequences ‘catastrophic and irreversible.’ They were right. There is no denying the growing threat of rising seas, warming global temperatures, and melting glaciers and ice sheets. 

But we can still avoid the worst if we quickly reduce carbon emissions. That is why ignoring reality and leaving the Paris Agreement could do down as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history, isolating the U.S. further after Trump’s shockingly bad European trip. 

Trump is betraying the country, in the service of Breitbart fake news, the shameless fossil fuel industry, and the Koch brothers’ climate denial operation. It’s Sad. 

America’s biggest corporations and investors urged the President to stick with international efforts to address the climate threat. They and all of us will now have to proceed with a seriousness of purpose commensurate with the threat, knowing of this President’s grave defects. 

If you haven’t joined an environmental group, join one. If your voice needs to be heard, get active. If you are a big corporation with good climate policies that has shied away from engaging politically, it’s time to engage. And if you’re a university that teaches climate science, it’s time to stand up for your scientists. Whoever you are, help end climate denial and take action.”

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Jack Reed

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris climate agreement is a blow to the environment that makes us a less secure nation. Our military, which spends every hour of every day thinking about how to protect Americans says climate change is a problem and a real threat multiplier. Indeed, climate change is an established part of the military’s threat and risk assessments.

The United States should continue to be a leader when it comes to protecting the planet; instead, the President is abdicating this responsibility. President Trump is unwisely putting the United States alongside Syria and Nicaragua in declining to be part of the Paris agreement. 

The American people deserve better.” 

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

The President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is a terrible mistake. It will diminish American leadership in the world, undermine our ability to create good-paying jobs, and contribute to the further degradation of our environment. 

It is very disappointing that we now know, without question, that the President of the United Sates is a climate change denier. His decision today ignores the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding the serious consequences failing to address climate change. 

The only thing President Trump will accomplish by this decision is to set the United States and world back decades in this fight. I have no doubt that future generations are going to wonder what the hell we were thinking today”


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