Politics & Media
Apr 20, 2012, 07:17AM

The Deaf, Violent Swell

Ted Nugent's recent insanity and the politics of hate.

Though often mocked and criticized as an attack on free speech, the federal law forbidding any threats against the life of the United States president is nevertheless a necessary (though far from absolute) safeguard against those few who may cross the line from rhetoric to potential violence. It's actually not legal to threaten anyone's life, but just as with presidents, a degree of discretion is typically exercised when it comes to assessing a specific incident. Nobody's going to jail for idly wishing disaster on an enemy but depending on the context and severity of certain comments some sort of authority is likely to become involved.

Which is what happened to cult musician and songwriter Ted Nugent, who was visited by a pair of Secret Service agents (presumably selected from those not caught up in the current sex scandal) following some bizarre-even-for-him comments regarding this year's election. After determining that once again, Nugent was just talking out of his ass, the fairly routine interview ended.

Whether this is an effective or appropriate way to strike at the root of the problem is debatable. There have been no reports of increased threats to Barack Obama as compared to previous presidents, but the more casual introduction of violent themes to the rhetoric used by some of his more unhinged opponents has clearly gained a new visibility and prominence in mainstream press coverage. It isn't about entertainers like Nugent—who has been saying nothing but stupid shit for decades and promotes himself by being outrageous—it's about cross hairs, "Second Amendment solutions," ranting Fox News pundits, and guns at Tea Party rallies.

Violence is almost normal in politically-charged discourse, even after the tragedies in Arizona last year briefly sparked debate on the matter. And it so happens many of the worst offenders have reason to feel desperate with November just around the corner. It shouldn't really be a bipartisan issue, but there's no point pretending the weaponry and retro-Revolutionary War fantasies are coming equally from both sides. Nugent's comments aren't representative of anything but the outermost fringe of this worldview, but the themes if not specific details of his NRA comments are familiar territory for the Republican Party, which is currently spiraling out of control attempting to find something that will strike a chord with and mobilize their base. So some of them are going with violence.

And growing numbers are listening. For all the hand-wringing about "climate" and "rhetoric" there's been no real progress in reducing the hostility levels. Glenn Beck got fired from one horrible company and was instantly hired by another. The language used is only a symptom of the greater issue, which is that violence has emerged as an appropriate response to disagreements in the political sphere. Violence has been introduced to discussion of virtually every severely divisive issue. Whether it's reproductive rights, health care reform, or an election, violence is used as a threat, and not always an empty one either. Just as with a pollutant in a body of water, removing this element from the political climate is no easy task. But it's a goal worth working towards, not through censorship or stifling expression, but by remaining vigilant in refusing to accept violent words or actions as defensible responses to civil disagreements.


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