Politics

Politicians in Washington state are going on a censorship jag

I think it was inevitable, with the rise of political tribalism, that the impulse to repress also increased what one camp or another deems wrong, dangerous, or uncomfortable.

There are only two weeks to 2022 and politicians here and elsewhere are out of scrutiny.

Locally weighed by, among others, Governor Jay Inslee. It has been proposed to imprison, for up to a year, any elected local or state official, candidate, or candidate who makes false statements about the Washington state election system or the results of previous local elections. The bill, which was passed earlier this month, states that to be eligible for prosecution, the lies must be “directed toward incitement or the production of an unlawful imminent act.”

It’s called the “Donald Trump Legacy Honor Act.”

“I think it would be constitutional, because we understand that this is the kind of rhetoric that can encourage violence,” Inslee said, referring directly to the riots in the US Capitol.

Well, I totally agree with the governor that last year’s campaign stolen from Republicans was shameful and devastating. Shameless because there is no evidence for it; Destructive because, while wrong, it generates some suspicion and disbelief about the drivers of democracy anyway.

But forbidden? This is a version of “Lock them up!” The kind of response liberals have criticized for inflaming his opponents.

“You can’t deal with growing authoritarianism by threatening to put opposition politicians in prison,” says Jeff Kosseff, a former Oregonian reporter turned law professor at the US Naval Academy, who has been critical of Inslee’s proposal online.

Other countries throw politicians in prison for their words. We don’t do that.”

In practice, Kosev said, charging anyone under the law would be very difficult. Other attorneys have also pointed out that Washington State already has general laws against inciting riots and the like, so this particular text of election-related rhetoric appears redundant.

Although, on a symbolic level, the intent is quite clear: “It is to use the threat of prosecution under this law to try to calm rhetoric,” Kosev said.

Fearful rhetoric, or the outright attempt to ban ideas altogether, is all the rage in American politics. As NBC News noted on New Year’s Eve: “America ends 2021 with increased censorship.”

The right to lather to ban books or even entire subjects from school teaching. In Iowa, the head of the Senate there has proposed criminal charges for teachers for using books in class, such as Seattle author Alexey Sherman’s book “A Totally Real Memoirs of a Part-Time Indian.”

Back at our state capitol in Olympia: Republican legislators here, at once, introduced bills to rid schools of “critical race theory,” but it goes much further than that. One, from Rep. Brad Klebert, R-Kenwick, House of Representatives 1886, prohibits any teaching in schools, including any discussion in the classroom, about the idea that institutions in this country can be “structural racism.”

This is just an ostrich approach to history. If you can’t talk about structural racism, you probably can’t study how our state Supreme Court struck down the death penalty a few years ago, because of its racial perversion. Black defendants were four times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites. This is a fact and not even a theory, but it would be taboo.

Free speech group PEN America says historic sterilization proposals like these are sweeping the country, and they amount to “educational silencing rules.”

Of course there is a legitimate debate about whether different books or lessons are appropriate or should be taught. But the blanket ban of ideas goes against education and goes against the whole premise of a free society. Like the lawyer said about jailing politicians, other countries do things like that. We – presumably – don’t do that.

Klebert, who is running for Congress in the Fourth District of central Washington, happens to be one of the state’s main manipulators in the stolen election plot. Here he is working hard to silence thoughts he doesn’t like, even as Inslee, across the rotunda Capitol, is trying to muzzle him.

None of this quantization will work. Never do that. It will force underground conversations. In the case of the stolen electoral nonsense, I could see that it amplified her conspiratorial power. People will say, “The government forbade talking about it, so there must be something there.”

It’s a cliché, but the answer to all of this is: more talk. More talk about our checkered history, not less. More debunking lies. Society is struggling with a fire hose of misinformation, but we won’t be able to organize or monitor our way out of it.

I think I thought, or hoped, that we were made of stronger things than this. Where, for all our faults, we may still at least aspire to be a marketplace for ideas. Instead, both of our political parties now seem to be afraid.

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