Politics, lies, and freedom of speech


Here in the United States these days we’re at a critical fork in the road, facing what could very well develop into a constitutional crisis. I’m not talking about a former president who is facing four criminal indictments – a historical event that is in itself something of a crisis – but about the problem of telling where we should draw the line for use of lies and disinformation in political speech.

Does our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech really apply to deliberate, malicious untruths designed to harm others or that any reasonable individual should know could put someone in danger?

That might seem like a nonsensical question. After all, freedom of speech doesn’t mean you can yell ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater – right? Right, but when it comes to the hot air that comes from the mouths, mikes, and pens of politicians, there seems to be some uncertainty.

For example, a certain politician who I will not name makes a practice of publicly attacking in the vilest terms anyone who disagrees with, threatens, or otherwise upsets him. This, unfortunately, has included district attorneys who have indicted him for the crimes he’s allegedly committed and the judges presiding over his cases. When called on this egregious behavior, this politician uses the excuse that it’s election season, he’s a candidate, and this is part of his campaign, therefore, it cannot be limited.

Forgive me if I think this is hogwash. If this is what politics has come to, it needs to be changed. I’m no constitutional expert, but common sense says that when you do things that hurt others, you’re legally liable. Whether enough judges, some of whom render their judgments based on their politics rather than what I would call a strict interpretation of the law, agree with me and action will be taken to rein in the hate speech, disinformation, and outright lies that infect our political speech these days, I do not know. I’m not holding my breath until it happens, but I’ll never stop hoping.

I just hope it happens before any more people get hurt. We had enough damage and destruction on January 6, 2021, and recently some deranged woman from Texas was arrested for threatening to kill a judge in a high-profile case along with a politician from her state whose politics she didn’t like. Not everyone will agree with me on this, but I’m absolutely convinced that this poor misguided woman was motivated by some of the hateful rhetoric that is all over the place these days.

Politics here has become a ‘winner-take-all’ game with all sides pushing the boundaries of decorum, honesty, and (in my humble opinion) legality in their efforts to win elections. It’s seen not as a competition between different ideologies, with the losers accepting their loss and preparing for the next election, but a battle in which one must not just defeat the ‘enemy’ but destroy him – or her.

It’s been jokingly said that politics is the last refuge of scoundrels. The way it’s being conducted these days, that’s no longer a joke. – NWI