From the beginning, we Americans really haven’t been much for keeping things civil when someone tells us something we don’t like.
It’s kind of our brand.
We tarred and feathered tax collectors. We tarred and feathered investigators who came to find out who tarred and feathered the tax collectors. We threw two-million dollars of tea into Boston Harbor because we didn’t want to pay a tax on it. And when our colonial masters stuck their nose in our business too much without allowing colonial representation in their Parliament, we went to war and quit the Kingdom.
It didn’t stop there though.
We started tarring and feathering American tax collectors collecting tax on whiskey. And when the chippy Appalachian borderlanders finally rebelled against that tax, George Washington himself, as president, had to ride out with an army and put down the rebellion.
And yet, we persisted.
Congressman Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner unconscious with a cain on the floor of the Senate because he insulted his kinsman in a pro-abolition speech. Brooks was reelected to office again afterwards.
The man on our five-dollar bill was shot in the back of the head and killed. The man on the $10 bill was shot and killed by the the sitting Vice President of the United States at the time. The man on the $20 bill shot and killed a man in a duel because that man accused him of cheating on a horse race bet. Five of our last 30 presidents were shot while in office. If Squeaky Fromme’s gun didn’t malfunction an arm’s lengthy away from Gerald Ford in 1975, it would have been six. Two candidates that participated in the 1968 presidential election were also shot. As was our most prominent Civil Rights leader.
There were 2,500 politically motivated domestic bombings in America in an 18-month period spanning 1971 and 1972. Secretary of Defense Bob McNamara was once thrown off the Martha’s Vineyard ferry; not, asked to get off, mind you, literally thrown into the water by an anti-war protestor.
After calls for gun control in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, the leader of the national organization that protects our ability to own weapons, a famous actor who played Moses in a movie, once told the Vice President of the United States, “I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed, and especially for you, Mr. Gore: ‘From my cold, dead hands!’
33 of our 50 states have “stand your ground” laws that make it legal to respond to a credible threat of violence with an act of violence. One does not have to walk away. One does not have to look for a door. One can hit back harder than one was hit until there’s nothing left to hit.
It is after all, your ground.
It’s fair to say that America is a nation of laws. And it’s also fair to say that the way we best solve our societal disagreements is within the bounds of them. Years of war taught me a thing or two about what happens when the rule of law fails. The arc of human violence is long. It does not bend towards justice though. It bends towards whoever is better at violence. So, one should be careful not to mistake what I’ve said for justification of violence of any sort. It’s not and never will be.
Violence aside, the notion that responding to civil disagreement in any other way than with polite, professional discourse is “not our way” hasn’t paid much attention to our ways. Saying so is a political tactic that urges those less invested in an issue to side with the established authority in service to avoiding inconvenience. Segregationists said it about civil rights organizers. The oligarchs said it about labor organizers. And the Brits said it about our good patriots when they tossed their polite tea into Boston Harbor. Just like the less than polite American response to anything at all that smells like tyranny or infringement on rights, the response from the establishment to just behave isn’t new.
As we unruly Americans move forward into what is now and will surely be for some time, a politically divided and turbulent nation, it’s worth noting that taking away things that generations of Americans have been told is a right, is not often ushered in by something so simple as the retirement of a Supreme Court Justice.
The spirit of America is protest. No party has a monopoly on the market. That’s why it works.
4 thoughts on “Don’t Tread On Me”
Thank you, Mary Jo!
I do apologize for the overly dramatic anti-jingoist aim that was not at all expressed in the blog entry and it devolved off topic. I guess I am letting my more reactive impulses get the best of me. I am just getting a bit unnerved by violent rhetoric and action from both sides of the spectrum with the increasing trend towards local and global populism. History warns us of this and I do not see the United States singularly immune to it on a catastrophic level. I do not believe there is reason to really expect that we will be a stable prosperous beacon of hope and freedom in the next 30 years. The spirit of everywhere around the globe is protest to local and global factors unless state sponsored or tacitly supported murder becomes the norm.
If “we all know where this is going” I must be the only one in the dark trying to have a say in, and shape some of that into a more just future. But I also know that I am not alone, so must take issue with that assumption.
I get the sentiment but you get some facts wrong. We never threw Tea into the Boston Harbor, they left it on the docks to rot. The Tea Act lowered the tax on tea. “Patriots” encouraged the consumption of smuggled tea. What is ignored is the amount of money spent by the British government during the Seven Years War defending the colonies. It’s akin to us protecting Hawaii from direct invasion after the bombing of the Harbor and the Pacific War. What if Hawaii said: “Thank you very much for your support but we no longer need it because we have a large country with boundless resources and a chance to exploit it and recover the wealth for our own.” That aside, it appears that the right has one powerful monopoly of violence and that is the minds of the military. Anti-government protesters on the left have always known this. You maybe an outlier or an apologist, I really do not know. Peaceful protests never succeed without the underlying threat of catastrophic social upheaval on the one side who knows that the government may play it’s biggest card. I can go on and on about about dubious foreign policy legal and illegal that enjoyed tacit approval from the “Generals” from “ex military” who become consultants and mercenaries therefore engaging in extra state foreign policy initiatives from Central America to Africa. What is left to comfort me that these same ideological forces will not be used to turn on the populace who demand adherence to democratic process and civil rights? Certainly, the military has been excellent in turning tax dollars into privatized weapons contracts to sell munitions and intelligence to bad players. They prove a huge threat because the ability to fight back with legal citizen weaponry can never match the GRU 43/b MOAB, Supra Cobras etc. I clearly I have lost faith because of the rhetoric coming out of the Commanders and Chiefs mouth. Violent rhetoric, denial and lies have been normalized at the highest level on a daily basis coming from a Twitter account. That is where we are. Propaganda from both sides is escalating.There is your current arc and we all know where this is going, don’t kid yourself.