34. Talk of Killing an Opponent…

Election Day

November 8, 2016

This is going to sound a little bit like New York City’s 99th mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia reading the Sunday funny papers to kids on the radio during the newspaper strike in the summer of 1945. He read the words in the cartoon balloons and described the action in the pictures. I know it will sound like that because I heard him do it at the time.

Last evening, on the eve of today’s presidential election, someone forwarded to me a photograph, with added dialog balloons, that is apparently making the internet rounds.

In it, one of the actors who played James Bond, wearing a tux, is walking in an elegant palatial interior setting, a couple of paces behind the elderly Queen Elizabeth.

In his balloon he is asking, “….. & DONALD TRUMP, MA’AM?”

Her poker-faced response, is, “MAKE IT LOOK LIKE AN ACCIDENT, OO7”

Sure, I laughed at the cartoon at 3 am, before clicking the e-mail into the trash without a responding comment.  But in my peri-hypnopompic state on Election Day morning, I detected the echo of a subliminal shudder, the epicenter of which became apparent when I unearthed the joke from the trash file and took another look.

In earlier times a cartoon about the assassination of a presidential candidate would have been shocking, and I find it sad that a leading candidate has somehow made it every-day and mundane.  The implied threat is, after all, merely a slight escalation from his own threat to imprison his rival.

I see the nature of the present political campaign as the logical extension of a decades-long process of Jerry Springerization of the news and of public discourse, which has been a primer in how to turn any discussion into a physical fight:  the antithesis of conflict resolution — Springer has popularized conflict escalation.

Nearly twenty years ago I led a group therapy session among forensic patients at a state hospital, all committed to our locked ward after having been found guilty of some terrible act or other, but not criminally culpable because of a mental defect or disorder — “not guilty by reason of insanity”.  Included in the group were several murderers, as well as perpetrators of other grave but non-fatal assaults. As is often the case, the underlying interpersonal dynamic was easier to spot when dealing with the most extreme stories.  Perhaps because it is more difficult to deny and dismiss than when the elements are more subtle but still significantly damaging.

Jumping right to the heart of the matter, the single ground rule to which all who would engage in peaceful interactions must agree, whether interpersonal or international, is the assumption and the granting of the sovereign jurisdiction of each person over his or her thoughts, feelings and opinions, and of each nation over all that occurs within its borders.  This is a concession of powers and rights, that declares that all unwanted and uninvited intrusions across personal and national boundaries are invasions, and are a priori wrong in the eyes of the world.

In the case of nations, that principle was established in 1648 in the Treaty of Westphalia.  In the case of persons in the United States, it is established by our laws defining adulthood and competency, and is at the core of all our laws against interpersonal assaults and attacks.  All questions appertaining thereto are decided by judges in courts of law.

One can fairly say that while it is not legal to prevent others from speaking their opinions, it is also fundamental that, after the age of majority, no one is in any way obligated to listen to any unsolicited opinions, from any other person. Much less is anyone obliged to accept any touching or other physical intrusion upon person or property without giving concurrent and continuing consent.

Perhaps the most common tactic people employ in order to force their opinion upon another is to claim they must listen “because it is the truth”.  When “in truth” it is likely that everything presented as truth is merely opinion.  Even what we commonly call “scientific truth” is actually someone’s theoretical model or metaphor and subject to regular revision or outright change when it no longer describes all the observable phenomena.

“Religious truth”, when foisted upon a second party of a different belief, is merely an opinion, often the product of an outright delusion or hallucination, coupled with an appeal to a higher authority: an authority that doesn’t actually exist, except through a personal decision in the mind of the believer, to believe that it does.  If an effort is made by a first party to force a second party to acknowledge the superiority of any idea, or behave according to that idea, that constitutes the imposition of pure power across a personal, sovereign boundary, and violates both our laws pertaining to freedom of belief, and what have become international norms regarding personal rights and freedoms. Under that construct, for example, slavery itself becomes a special case of infringement by force and by the assertion of a false right, upon the personal sovereignty of another person.

When it becomes acceptable to make jokes about killing a political opponent, we have slipped across an important line, between persuasion and the imposition of intimidation and physical force.  I find it ironic that in this instance the side making the joke is the one theoretically averse to taking things by force. At the same time it is not actually surprising that the joke of the putatively more peaceful faction, the anti-war, anti-gun party, makes reference to murder by the icon of stealth and perfidy, the international spy with a “license to kill”.

I conclude that the only difference between the faction that talks peace and the one that advocates confrontation, is the degree to which the motives of the former are less overt, and their aggressions  more passive and concealed.

As if, of the cartoon they might later say, “Oops! Did I say that out loud?”

If the over-arching concept is personal sovereignty, is making or repeating a joke about killing someone less offensive than making a joke about committing a sexual assault upon someone? Is such a joke merely political locker-room talk?

As a good mom would say when the kids are fighting . . . “Use your words!”