Al Seymour

Hidden dangers of overheated political rhetoric

  • Coming together: the recent shooting of a United States congressman in Virginia, at a peaceful event being staged by Republicans and Democrats for charity, left politicians on both sides in a state of shock

When politicians in any democratic environment become so opposed to each other, there is a tendency to step outside of the codes of decency and respect. Words laced with bitterness and anger are uttered without realising the impact they could have on someone who interprets such words as a green light to take action that goes totally against basic principles of democracy and a process of justice through civil debate or constructive discussion.

The political arena can be more than a testing ground for choosing words carefully in the run-up to a General Election because most voters are able to detect when promises and criticism are bashed about as though the world will end if this or that group is not successful in being placed in the seat of administrative power. Although this is an essential element of democracy, which is appreciated by those who believe in freedom of expression, that freedom can at times be abused, resulting in negative effects on the electorate.

The recent shooting of a United States congressman in Virginia, at a peaceful event being staged by Republicans and Democrats for charity, left politicians on both sides in a state of shock, with some taking a closer look at the possibility that bitter exchanges during the presidential election campaigns and even after the election may have led to a disgruntled individual choosing violence to express his disapproval of the new administration under Donald Trump.

The incident that both groups condemned also ignited a spirit of bipartisanship seldom seen in Washington, as Democrats and Republicans stood shoulder-to-shoulder in upholding the values of America and sending a united message that, no matter their differences, such acts will not deter their belief in those values. House Speaker Paul Ryan drew strong applause when he said: ”An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

At least for the moment, the incident had overshadowed the investigation by a special counsel, which, according to The Washington Post, was now looking at whether the President had attempted to obstruct justice. Meanwhile, the investigation continues into alleged interference by the Russians in the recent election. It is certainly not a good time for the White House.

Both sides during that campaign were guilty of using nasty descriptions of their opponents, with Trump at one stage referring to Hillary Clinton as a bigot; and she once labelled his supporters as losers of low quality. Such descriptions, while not acceptable, are disregarded by those who know the political arena can get dirty at times.

This brings us back to that individual who decided to wage his own war against the Trump Administration by thinking he could use a weapon to bring about change. There is always danger of the lone wolf who would attempt to disrupt civil order with violence with no regard for innocent lives. He was taken down by brave police before he could inflict further harm.

The incident prompted a number of lawmakers in the nation to ponder whether overheated rhetoric by some politicians could feed the vulnerable.

It is a matter that all democratic countries should review because in many parts of the world a few badly chosen words could mean the difference between life and death. This can be quite a challenge because there are times when positive words spoken to promote good are also rejected by some with a different agenda. When Abraham Lincoln made a speech promising to free slaves, one man in the audience muttered: “That will be his last speech.” Although Lincoln was assassinated shortly afterwards, those powerful words became reality because good, dedicated people kept them alive.

In the world today, we could learn much from history in the positive and negative power of words, especially from those in authority. Perhaps as our election draws near, those vying for public office should choose words carefully, but they should also keep in mind that what matters most is keeping decency, truth and respect as their golden principles.