Whom Are We Allowed to Criticize?

Quote of the Week:  To learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize. –Voltaire

As an American citizen, I have a strong appreciation for the First Amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing our rights to free speech, and the freedoms of religion, press, and assembly; as well as the less-cited right to petition the government for redress of grievances.  All of these rights work together in harmony to allow us the right to criticize whomever we please – in theory.  Obviously, the Constitution was never purported to be a perfect document; and there are glaring omissions from the point of view of modern society.  For example, major corporations were beyond the imagination of the framers of the Constitution; and so corporate powers over individuals, communities, and even our government specifically are completely unrestrained by any line of the Constitution.

In fact, every grouping of people outside of the government proper has the power to restrict rights of all people joining those groups (besides often working to limit rights of others outside the group).  Churches can require members to follow religious rules; families, companies, and other groups can control speech as rigidly as they please; and so forth.  While the Constitution protects rights to criticize other groups, we are losing the fight within groups.  This becomes evident as political divisiveness and the vitriol of rhetoric separate factions within political parties as deeply as they separate the parties themselves.  As Democratic and Republican campaigns for the nomination to the presidency heat up, invective not only between but also within the campaigns is also heating up.  There is an ever-increasing expectation of ideological conformity within the campaigns.  Trump supporters (the trumpenproletariat) become ever more shrill in favor of their candidate, and eat each other alive when any of them expresses doubt or recognizes a flaw in their candidate.  The supporters of other campaigns do the same.  As a Clinton supporter myself, I have received the most vicious criticisms on Facebook from fellow Clinton supporters (whenever reflecting on weaknesses, like her Wall Street connections and her Iraq vote), while Sanders supporters and Republicans have been far less nasty.  While some members of both parties’ campaigns complain about attacks by other candidates from the same party, I have seen fierce expectations of conformity within the members of several individual campaigns.

This bipartisan expectation of conformity is troubling indeed.  It demonstrates that whatever the Constitution says, we are not allowed to criticize those very individuals asking us for our vote and purporting to represent our interests and views.  That is not a foundation of democracy; that is a weakness that can potentially undermine our democracy.  None of our candidates are perfect (if you will excuse the understatement); and we must express our doubts not only about those we are fighting against, but of those for whom we are fighting.  If we do not, the very point of this fighting is lost.

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9 thoughts on “Whom Are We Allowed to Criticize?

  1. Interesting. As another Clinton supporter I’ve been hesitant to mention my candidate-of-choice for fear of being nagged by Sanders’ supporters. “You neeeeeed to support Bernie! How can you NOT, being who you are? If you really cared about social injustice blah blah blabbity blah.” I don’t dislike Mr. Sanders (whereas I fervently dislike the Republican candidates,) he’s simply not my guy and I owe no explanations to anyone as they fuck back off to Bernieville.

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    1. Political fervency is both internal and external. But we are expected to consider other candidates’ supporters as less responsive to “truth” (read as “social injustice,” “equality,” “making America great/hate again,” etc). But our own candidates themselves each have deep flaws; and oppose candidates who (at least in some cases) mean well, represent their party’s interests and values, and have a right to be heard. Bernie (even if only a Democrat for the purpose of this election) has long been at the spearhead of Democratic legislation, and has ideas that can truly bring the US back to our most formative values, those values of the City on a Hill. I want him in the Senate, where he is a force to be reckoned with, and Hillary in the Oval, where she can employ her greater executive experience and contacts. But I would be thrilled to watch Sanders take the oath of office; and I refuse to attack him, or those who consider him more qualified.

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  2. I see 24/7 media being a contributor to the problem. Every bit of news and every comment is readily available and subject to immediate analysis and more comment. The ability to comment so quickly and so often gives rise to the innate need to form packs. Our instinct to seek others of the same mindset overrides the opportunity we have to freely exchange ideas.

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    1. Thanks, Jack. That’s an interesting argument; something of a “velocity of conformity expectation” idea, if I’m following you correctly (i.e., velocity of expectations rises with an increase in volume and/or speed of communication?). I would love to hear more of your thoughts along those lines.

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  3. I have to agree with Jack about the 24/7 news contributing to the divisiveness in our politics today. My take may be a little different, but here ’tis: it’s far easier to take a staunch position and stick with it than to give thoughtful consideration to what others, especially your opponents, might say. You’ll be accused of wavering and indecision rather than showing respect and a willingness to learn and grow.

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