Legitimate Political Discourse

Roland Stahl
February, 2022

     What are the limits of legitimate political discourse?  No, I’m not talking about the insurrection in Washington on January 6th (no need to flog that dead horse any further ~ it’s beginning to stink), I’m talking about the Canadian truckers’ protest in Ottawa.  

     For perspective on my take on it, here is a story from fifty years ago in Providence, Rhode Island, home of Brown University, The Rhode Island School of Design, and Classical High School.  The Rhode Island School of Design is visible from one of the major freeways, and it sports a large sign reading, in big letters, “The Rhode Island School of Design.”  Well, one fine day, commuters crossing that freeway noticed that the sign had been changed.  By the removal of a few of the letters, the sign now read, “The Rhode Island School of sin.”  My High School History teacher at Classical told us about it, laughing at how clever it was.  Of course, the school quickly restored the sign to its normal state, but then, a week or so later, it had again been changed back to the “The Rhode Island School of sin.”  But this time, the same History teacher was unstinting in her condemnation of the stunt as wanton vandalism with no redeeming merit whatsoever.  The first time it was funny ~ the second time it was just gross vandalism.

     The lesson for the Canadian truckers’ strike is clear ~ opposition and protest are very highly valued features of a free society, putting it in marked contrast with places like China (Hong Kong) and Russia.  You don’t find me waving too many American flags (which hasn’t made much moral progress since the days of slavery, with its endless wars all over the globe), but this is one point at which I have to applaud the history and tradition of free speech.  Yes !  Speak your mind ~ make your protest ~ march around with your signs and banners ~ occupy Wall Street ~ clog the streets of Ottawa with trucks for a day or two ~ and then pack it in and go home.  Disrupting the normal life of two countries for weeks on end not only exceeds the limits of legitimate political discourse, but it also begins to backfire, alienating people who may have applauded the protest in the beginning.  It’s time to go home.  

     By the way, I’m indifferent to the issue at stake ~ at my age, I get the vaccine and wear a mask, mandate or no mandate.  


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