Silencing dissent is the point in Tennessee
Two Democratic legislators in the Tennessee House of Representatives were expelled last week. They had led a protest on the chamber floor in support of tighter gun laws after a shooting massacre in Nashville left three children and three adults shot to pieces. The Republican majority justified the expulsion on the grounds that they violated House rules of decorum.
It was a hardball move. There should be no doubt. Two young, handsome, intelligent and Black men raised some hell over a political issue that’s dear to white-power politics. Meanwhile, a white woman representative involved in the same protest was spared. Expelling them was totally racist. C’mon.
But let’s be real. White power was always already present in the Tennessee House (as it always is everywhere in these United States). If white power were the reason for expulsion, they’d have been expelled a long time ago.
READ MORE: 'Silenced': Expelled Tennessee Dem says GOP House Speaker 'runs the Capitol like it’s his private palace'
The state House Republicans didn’t have to do this. They could have let it blow over, safe in the knowledge that their dominance of the capital would mean Tennessee’s gun laws remain loosey-goosey for years to come. They could have let it go while claiming the Tennessee 3 had a right to free expression. They could have appeared to stand for gun and speech rights.
Yet they didn’t. That suggests that state House Republicans don’t fear accountability for appearing to infringe not only on free speech but democracy itself. (The Tennessee 3 are duly elected representatives.)
And in the end, it may be of no use. The Nashville metropolitan council, the body responsible for filling vacancies in its district, is expected to reinstate Justin Jones pending a special election. The Shelby County Commission is responsible for vacancies in the Memphis district. It is expected to do the same for Justin Pearson. Both men say they are candidates for the special election. Two members shut out last week may be sent back this week. If this were a victory for the state House Republicans, it’s a symbolic one.
We should pay attention to that. These Republicans can’t really stop other people from speaking their minds. They can’t really stop other government bodies from reacting, or counteracting, their decisions (short of extreme measures to suppress city and county governments, which isn’t out of the question – these are fascists we’re talking about, after all). They can, however, make their intentions clear. That’s what they’ve accomplished.
READ MORE: 'Jim Crow': Symone Sanders accuses Republicans of waging 'an all-out assault' on Black people
What are their intentions? To silent enemies.
Lies and propaganda, in rightwing politics, are not tools for achieving some kind of end. They are the end. The lies constitute the reality of right-wing politics. They believe the lies, because they are the lies. You can’t speak truthfully with those who embody lies. The truth destabilizes the lies, which destabilizes those who embody them. So, to them, the truth is violence.
That’s why those who embody lies cannot tolerate people who don’t. It’s too painful. When you take to the floor of the state House to demand tighter gun laws in the aftermath of a massacre, you’re not merely demanding commonsense. You’re the aggressor. You’re the criminal. Disagreement isn’t disagreement, in rightwing politics. Disagreement is straight annihilation.
The biggest lie is “the natural order of things.” It puts white Christian men on top, according to God’s will. Liberal democracy keeps challenging the natural order of things. Liberal democracy, therefore, must be stopped. How? It’s not by way of competition in the marketplace of ideas. It’s through cold-blooded, hardball maneuvers, like expelling hostile enemies.
We’re seeing this pattern of suppressing dissent repeating itself around the country. Various and sundry programs and laws are aimed at silencing “hostile enemies” who keep insisting on finding and speaking the truth.
Florida passed a law stifling the right to assemble at the state capital. It passed a law censoring words spoken in public school classrooms. It passed a law censoring lessons in Black history. Republican-controlled states are banning or regulating the performing arts with laws targeting drag shows.
Republican-controlled states are banning books from libraries, defunding libraries or hinting at the regulation of bookstores. The American Library Association says ban books have soared. “Half of the top 10 most challenged books in 2021 were flagged because of LGBTQ content,” per USA Today.
I don’t know exactly why right-wing politics appears emboldened, but I suspect it’s because of the US Supreme Court. With the striking down of Roe, it has established the equivalent of moral hazard. (That’s when banks think they can do whatever they want knowing the government will bail them out.) Republicans nationwide are free to do what they want safe in the knowledge that the high court’s rightwing supermajority is behind them.
When the Supreme Court took the side of individual liberty – for instance, that “separate but equal” is unequal and therefore unconstitutional – agents of federal government power were persona non grata in rightwing politics. Government was the problem, not the solution, because the government protected minority rights against the potential tyranny of the majority. That’s why, even in rightwing politics, there used to be lip service to the liberal democratic values of free assembly, speech and movement.
That’s all reversed now. Well, it has been reversing, but the fall of Roe seems to have consolidated the view that the end of that era has arrived, such that GOP lawmakers in states with authoritarian cultures feel comfortable infringing the speech rights of duly elected members of the opposing party.
Debating political issues, like whether to reform gun laws that permitted the massacre of innocents, is too risky for those who embody lies about those same political issues. The risk is being shown wrong, an intolerable injury. Why debate the enemy when you have the power to silence it?
READ MORE: Tennessee House 'defined by partisan vitriol, pique, scandal, racism and Olympic-level pettiness for years': beat reporter
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