On May 24, there was an incident in Frankfort that has reverberated since.
A group protesting the ongoing shutdowns over the COVID-19 pandemic took their rhetoric one step further and hung an effigy of Gov. Andy Beshear, upon which had been written the term “Sic semper tyrannis” — “thus always to tyrants” — a phrase originally attributed to one of the assassins of Julius Caesar, and also allegedly spoken by John Wilkes Booth after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
Coming the day before Memorial Day, it was a darkly ironic perversion of the freedom of speech numerous men and women have died to protect while serving in the U.S. Military.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the people of this nation have the right to freedom of speech, the ability to hold government accountable, to make their opinions known.
The fundamental underpinning of our form of government, the very foundation of the republic, is the foundation that there is room for many opinions and that each person carrying those ideas is valuable. There is room for debate. Decision making is a process that sometimes is frustratingly slow because it requires discussion, debate, communication, compromise.
But, that’s what made our nation strong in the past — that each voice was given weight and that those who disagreed still had to ultimately come to the same table to hash out their differences. Without disparate voices, no measure, no action, no proposal, could go forward.
And here’s the other side effect, one which it’s unclear if many of those participating understood, they, in many ways, reduced the ability to further their stated cause. If they’re truly working to turn back the tide of the effects of the shutdowns due to COVID-19, they, in many ways, shot themselves in the foot on May 24.
Now, their extremist, minority views are the broad brush with which others who may disagree with aspects of the COVID-19 response will be painted. Disagree with Gov. Beshear on a matter? In our current state of discourse, you will be connected with this event.
It will have a chilling effect on questioning the actions of those in power, something which must be done in a civil manner, completely devoid of any concept of using violence as a means to political ends.
If you consider harming or even threatening the physical well-being of a person with whom you disagree on a matter such as public policy as a reasonable way of accomplishing your goals, you are wrong. Not only are you wrong, but your line of thinking is dangerous.
It’s not acceptable. Free speech does not mean that you can say whatever you want, with complete freedom from consequences. It means you can speak your mind that you have a say, not threaten others with physical harm if they don’t see things exactly as you do or do exactly what you want them to.
What occurred on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion was not an exercise of free speech. It was psychological terrorism, plain and simple — intended to intimidate and bully. There’s no justification in our nation for this type of demonstration.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, in an era when every single political issue, no matter how minor, is given the weight of a life-or-death matter. Now we’re in the midst of a truly life-and-death matter and because the process of discourse and using reason to come to a compromise hasn’t been practiced in the minor matters, we’re unable to accomplish anything of worth when it comes to the major matters.
It’s completely acceptable for you to be in disagreement with Gov. Beshear or any other leader. In fact, your point of view being brought forward may be the very key to enlightening that person to an error or, at the very least, the possibility that their course of action may not be right.
But the second that violence enters into that equation — as it did in very real form on May 24 — all hope of that happening is dashed and division becomes the rule of the day.
No answers will come from that, no positive outcomes. Only more hatred and fear, more confusion and chaos, result and our communities, our state and our nation are worse for it.