I have previously lamented what I call “the age of rage” and how many seem addicted to rage in our society. That was evident this week as many vented against groups ranging from the Canadian truckers to the unvaccinated. CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem seemed to suggest vigilantism as a proper response to the Canadian protesters while James Carville said that he wanted to punch the unvaccinated. I do not view either Kayyem or Carville as seriously advocating or condoning violence. However, the heated rhetoric highlights the danger of past demands from the left for censoring or prosecuting others for violent speech.
On her Twitter account, Kayyem responded to a Wall Street Journal article on the gridlock caused by the truckers: “The convoy protest, applauded by right-wing media as a ‘freedom protest,’ is an economic and security issue now. The Ambassador Bridge link constitutes 28% of annual trade movement between US and Canada. Slash the tires, empty gas tanks, arrest the drivers, and move the trucks.”
These snarling, violent comments are all-too-common in today’s environment. However, they also raise the question of how we treat violent speech. Various Democrats are calling for the disqualification of members of Congress, and former President Donald Trump, for their comments made before the January 6th riot. Some members have brought lawsuits over allegations that such speeches constituted incitement for insurrection. However, violent language continues to be common on both sides of our political divide. What constitutes hyperbole and what constitutes incitement is dangerously undefined.
If CNN viewers went out on a tire slashing frenzy, would Kayyem or CNN be legally responsible? I would oppose such claims as inimical to free speech. Likewise, MSNBC hosts and politicians like Minnesota Attorney General Kieth Ellison have supported Antifa, but I do not attribute the violence of that group to their support.
Trump has still not been prosecuted (as previously suggested by some) for incitement. It is not in my view, but, if it were to be prosecuted, some Democrats could face similar allegations. Likewise, many have called for conservative figures to be barred from social media for engaging in violent or incendiary rhetoric. Should Twitter now bar Kayyem or Carville?
The point is only that commentators are risking more than hypocrisy in calling for prosecutions of figures like Trump or disqualification of figures like Rep. Madison Cawthorn for reckless rhetoric. This is a fluid standard that can apply as easily to figures on the left who vent their anger with violent speech and ideations.