Having been an employer, I was required, by law, to keep citizens safe in my place of business by maintaining a workplace environment that was free of intimidating and threatening behavior. Yet, the rhetoric and actions of lawmakers, political candidates and pundits have contributed to a political and social environment that is hostile and actually poses a threat to the safety of our citizens. It is a glaring political double standard.
Imagine, if you will, that you (or your spouse, or one of your children) worked in a business where an employee could enter the premises with a loaded weapon strapped to his/her leg. That an employee, who had disagreements with others in the business and felt they needed to be removed, posted a floor plan that placed rifle crosshairs over their offices, identified individuals by name, and used words like ‘aim’, ‘reload’, and ‘salvo’. That, if employees were given the chance to vote on a matter within the business, one had said ‘if the ballots don’t work, bullets will’ or that he/she could resort to ‘second amendment remedies’. That if an employee who took exception to the performance of a particular division had said that he didn’t want all of the personnel in that division killed but wanted to keep a few around like fossils so that people could remember what they were. And suppose in that environment that firearms were discharged killing several employees, and the management of that firm decried the act saying that violence had no place in a business, and that the act was obviously just that of a deranged and troubled individual.
Should there be any Human Resource professionals reading this scenario, I’m fairly certain that their hair is standing on end by now. And I can not imagine any lawmaker or political candidate advocating such an environment for our citizens, and if there are let them speak up.
We are required as business owners, by law, to provide safe places of work for our citizens; a work environment that is free from intimidating, threatening, harassing, and discriminatory behavior. Had an individual in the company issued language and images like the above, we would have been obligated to remove that individual from the workplace for posing a threat to the safety and well-being of citizens within the business. Additionally, we would have been in discussions with Legal regarding a recommendation for a mental health evaluation as well as any obligation we might have to share that language and imagery with law enforcement. I contend that if such behavior is felt to pose a safety risk in the workplace, it does in public life as well. Had the above environment been documented in a place of business and citizens were killed by gun fire while working there, the leadership of that corporation would have been taken to task in a court of law.
However, when our citizens leave the workplace, they enter an entirely different world.
Suppose that you wanted to attend a town hall meeting on healthcare reform to listen to the debate and have your say in the matter. But in the crowd there is an individual, obviously opposed to the legislation, who is carrying a loaded weapon and a placard that says ‘from time to time the tree of liberty needs to be refreshed with the blood of tyrants’. Is this individual stable? Does he have a quick temper? How comfortable are you in expressing your opinion of the legislation either verbally or by holding a placard in the presence of this armed individual? In his singular opinion are you a tyrant and might he decide to refresh that tree with your blood? Has this individual interfered with your right to peaceably assemble and have your say?
Suppose that you wish to meet with your elected representative at a public event. But that representative has been identified by name on a map that has placed rifle crosshairs over the district with such provocative language as reload, aim, and salvo. That your representative’s challenger has asked people to attend a fundraiser to help him remove your representative from office and invited them to fire an assault weapon. And the political rhetoric of the times was laced with phrases like ‘second amendment remedies’ and ‘if ballots don’t work bullets will’, etc.; and you have heard that armed anti-government militias are on the rise. Would you feel comfortable meeting with your representative in a public place, especially when at a similar event in the recent past an individual, who was opposed to legislation that your representative supported, had dropped a concealed and loaded gun to the floor?
Suppose you are progressive in your ideology. During all this political gun rhetoric, a widely popular conservative talk show host, Rush Limbaugh, is on record as having said “I tell people don’t kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus – living fossils-so we’ll never forget what these people stood for” (ref) (ref). And you have also heard about multiple death threats to elected officials as well as violent acts from deranged individuals who have come into the possession of guns. Do you hold back, feeling a bit intimidated or frightened, about voicing your opinion in public on a matter either verbally or by sending a letter to a newspaper with your name on it?
The tone of the environment is set by leadership and our citizens deserve in public the same non-threatening, non-hostile environment that our lawmakers require they have in the workplace. It is disingenuous of politicians and political candidates to be fostering a hostile political and social environment with their language and imagery while at the same time supporting laws that prevent our citizens from being subjected to the same in the workplace. It is, in the opinion of this writer, a glaring and dangerous double standard.
This untoward behavior by politicians and pundits is defended in the name of liberty and freedom. I contend that such behavior impedes our freedoms and rights through intimidation and, frankly, fear. Should a statement as reckless as ‘not all liberals should be killed because we need a few around like fossils’ be defended under the right of freedom of speech? I believe no more so than the law that prohibits an individual from falsely shouting ‘Fire’ in a public place.
A productive and tolerant environment is set through sound leadership practices, something that I have taught and given seminars about, as well as common sense laws that protect our citizenry. The tone is set at the top and the environment is the responsibility of leadership. And we elect our lawmakers to be our leaders. They need to step up and put a stop to what has become a toxic political and social environment that intimidates and endangers our public.