I have been doing my best to stay out of public political disputations, of late; they are prone to generate more heat than light, and I am at a time in my life when argumentation for the sake of argumentation holds little appeal for me. But there are also times when things must be said; when not saying them would be an abrogation of my human responsibility to speak the truth in love.
While I do not in any way condone lawlessness, or the destruction of property, whether private or public, I am far less worried about a relatively small number of people breaking into the Capitol than I am about those in Big Tech, media, and the political arena who seem determined to use this unfortunate incident as an excuse to curtail what we may say, the information we may share, our choice of platforms on which we may say and share it, and other aspects of our civil rights and liberties.
Some have gone so far as to speak of “cleansing” those whose political positions differ from their own. This is gravely disturbing. I hope and pray that the incoming presidential administration will publicly disavow any such talk, and work to ensure that the public square remains a place where a wide range of discourse, and a wide range of ideas, are protected. Freedom is not freedom if it is only extended to those who agree with us.
Indeed, as President Harry S. Truman, successor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once pointed out (in a “Special Message to Congress on the Internal Security of the United States,” Aug. 8, 1950), “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Human beings want peace and security; and we have a deep-seated desire to do whatever we think is necessary to assure that. But that “whatever” can lead us down some dark paths, at times.
I am an academically-trained historian; and history is littered with societies, cultures, and nations who allowed short-term and relatively minor threats to usher in repressive measures that altered their societies in unintended and damaging ways. This is not a left-vs-right issue, ultimately; it is a freedom-vs-despotism issue.
As Benjamin Franklin famously noted, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” He also noted, following the adoption of the U.S. Constitution, and when asked what form of government the United States was forthwith to possess, “A Republic, madam — if you can keep it.”
It is our collective responsibility to do all in our power to “keep” the Republic our Founders bequeathed us, and to do so with its rights and liberties unimpaired.
What happened at the Capitol on Wednesday was deeply unfortunate; and for those who lost their lives, and their loved ones, it was tragic. But be that as it may, this was not an insurrection; it was a political protest that got out of hand. And we cannot — we must not — defend our Republic by suppressing the very freedoms it was founded to embody, and preserve. Speaking once again as an historian, let us not allow this to become our Reichstag fire moment. As the old saying goes: “those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”
Tom Harbold is a former Op-Ed columnist with the Carroll County Times. He lives in Sykesville. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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