Email #195: “disagree without being disagreeable”

I used to listen to Ted Nugent as a high schooler. I can still name and more-or-less sing a half dozen of his songs (“Wango Tango,” “Cat Scratch Fever,” “Great White Buffalo,” etc.). But I out grew him long before 2007, when he said on stage holding two machine guns: “Obama, he’s a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.”

Nugent of course is not the only political advocate to use violent rhetoric. I assume you recall Sharron Angle’s comment in 2010: “I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.”

Or Jesse Kelly’s 2011 fundraiser pitch: “help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office, shoot a fully automatic M-16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Although I would hope that the near-fatal shooting of Rep. Giffords would have ended the use of such violent rhetoric, in 2012 Nugent said to an NRA convention: “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” A Secret Service spokesperson responded: “We are aware of the incident with Ted Nugent, and we are conducting appropriate follow-up. We recognize an individual’s right to freedom of speech but we also have a responsibility to determine and investigate intent.”

While the Secret Service and law enforcement agencies recognize that rhetoric can lead to actual violence, some politicians still employ it. Donald Trump said last August about Secretary Clinton: “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

While I might have hoped that his earlier meeting with the Secret Service would have been a turning point for Mr. Nugent, I am pleased that he has now finally expressed regret for his dangerous rhetoric. The day after Rep. Scalise was shot, Nugent said in a radio interview: “I’m not going to engage in that kind of hateful rhetoric anymore.” He promised to “avoid anything that can be interpreted as condoning or referencing violence” and to encourage “friends [and] enemies on the left in the Democrat and liberal world that we have got to be civil to each other, that the whole world is watching America, where you have the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and we have got to be more respectful to the other side.”

I mention this because of the statements you made the same day:

“In a time when politics can pit neighbors against neighbors and social media has changed the way Americans communicate, we have seen a decline in civil discourse. That is why it is more important now than ever that we as a nation work even harder to maintain a civil discourse. We can have strongly held beliefs and passionately debate the issues. But, we can disagree without being disagreeable. I know from many years of working closely with Members of Congress on the other side of the aisle that this is the best approach to resolving our differences.”

I agree with you and the reformed Mr. Nugent and have been following that approach since I began writing to you last December. If you review the content of my roughly 200 letters, I believe you will find nothing “disagreeable,” and certainly nothing condoning or referencing violence. 50 Ways Rockbridge, the grassroots activist organization I helped co-found, made our policy explicit two months ago:

“Protests organized by or affiliated with 50 Ways-Rockbridge
“Will aim at the edification of the community or remediation of present wrongs
“Will be non-violent
“Will avoid the destruction of property”

We said this before the shooting, and we’ll keep saying it after the shooting. We unequivocally renounce violence and any statement promoting violence.

I hope then that you and other Republican members of Congress will not use the shooting of Rep. Scalise to reduce contact with your Democratic constituents. You did not stop holding town halls until 2013, two years after Rep. Giffords was shot, so based on your own precedent, the recent shooting should have no effect on your public appearances. As you said above, our country needs more civil discourse–which is precisely why 50 Ways Rockbridge and the Rockbridge Republicans proposed a joint and carefully limited town hall here in Lexington, one designed for real conversation. The shooting is further evidence of the necessity for exactly this kind of civil exchange.

You said “it is more important now than ever” that we “work even harder.” We in Lexington are doing exactly that. I hope you will now turn your agreeable rhetoric into agreeable action and show the rest of the nation what civil discourse between a Representative and his constituents should look like.

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Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an assistant professor of English at Washington and Lee University where he teaches creative writing, contemporary fiction, and comics. He has published two novels, Pretend I'm Not Here (HarperCollins 2002) and School For Tricksters (Southern Methodist University 2011), and two nonfictions, On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa University 2015) and Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury forthcoming 2017).

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