It’s a persistent pattern I’ve seen in the 46 years I have spent in or around politics: Statist politicians do, or try to do, something really outrageous to the rest of us, and when we protest, they tell us we are not being “civil.”
When Bill Clinton and an overreaching Congress raised taxes retroactively, violated our Second Amendment rights, and threatened to take over the country’s health care system, many of us naturally protested. Clinton and his allies responded by telling us we weren’t being “civil.”
I saw the same pattern during my years in Montana politics: In the early 1990s, irresponsible politicians levied huge and unjustified tax increases on a weak state economy.
They, too, enacted a mechanism for state control of health care. When thousands protested—always in ways peaceable and impeccably legal — the governor largely responsible for the overreaching stumped the state, sermonizing about the need to be “civil.”
The politicians who control the White House, the Senate, and the last House of Representatives have been guilty of astonishing arrogance.
Over widespread protest, they intruded the federal government into our most intimate personal decisions, nationalized businesses, slipped hundreds of billions of our tax dollars to the politically powerful, and crippled our country with debt of incomprehensible magnitude.
Most Americans, thank goodness, responded in ways worthy of a free people: We objected. We remonstrated. We reminded those politicians, not always politely, that they work for us and they were running far, far out of bounds. And we “targeted” them electorally, with great success.
So now those same politicians and their enablers inform us we are not “civil.” Well, tough. We’ll stop the noise when they start following the rules.
In our society, the political rules are those embedded in our Constitution, with its balanced structure of personal freedom and strictly limited government. Collectivist politicians have cheated on those rules for a very long time. Like other cheaters, they are still human beings, and as such they deserve our prayers and protection against violence and expropriation. But we do not have to support them, encourage them, or even be polite to them.
Please note that politicians of the statist kind do not demand “civility” of all protesters. During the last administration, they encouraged no civility among those who daily assaulted President George W. Bush in the most vile and inexcusable terms. In the late 1960s and 1970s, when the dregs of my generation were disrupting campuses, intimidating people, flouting laws, and throwing excrement at the police, the collectivist politicians spoke less about the need for “civility” than about how the rest of us should cave in to the demands of the dung-hurlers, and listen to them, learn from them, and reward them by lowering the voting age, because they were the “best and finest generation ever.” In that instance, though, the protesters were merely touting a more extreme version of the same platform promoted by the collectivist politicians themselves.
Yet the good people of America — those who pay the taxes, produce the wealth, raise civilized families, respect the law, and fight our wars — are expected to suffer in quiet while politicians and bureaucrats intrude into the most personal aspect of our lives; while they erode our rights to free speech, to property, to bear arms, and to personal integrity; while they flout the Constitution’s limits imposed on federal power; while they cripple our businesses, steal our jobs, raise our taxes, and choke our country with debt.
No. Faced with the threat of tyranny, it is not merely our right as free people — it is our duty — to take to the streets, raise a clamor, and otherwise protest in every legal way possible.
The current calls for “civility” from statist politicians and their enablers should be understood for what they are: Efforts to make us hold still for another session of abuse, to make us forget our duties to ourselves, our families, and our posterity. But we will not forget those duties. This time we shall see them through, now and until America’s future and freedom are again secure.
Rob Natelson is Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence at the Independence Institute. He served as a law professor for a quarter of a century, but also has worked in business and as a political activist.