Have You No Sense of Decency?

In 1953, 70 years ago, Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, asked that rhetorical question of Senator Joseph McCarthy.  The answer was, of course, no.  The same question could be posed to the Republican supermajority of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and once again, the answer is a resounding no. They voted on whether to expel from their body three Democratic representatives.  True to Southern culture, they expelled the two black males but kept the lone white female by a one vote margin.  They were expelled for representing their constituents’ deep concerns about gun safety in the wake of yet another school shooting, this one within shouting distance of the very state Capitol where the House was were meeting.

Expulsion, disenfranchising some 150,000 Tennessee citizens from being represented, is normally reserved for criminal behavior on the part of the accused.  This time, the accusation was a breach of decorum, in reaction to being persistently refused recognition by the Speaker.  At the same time, Wisconsin legislators have threatened to impeach the newly elected state Supreme Court justice before she is even sworn in.  Her crime? Disagreeing with their views on gerrymandering and shredding the right to reproductive choice. Wisconsin is an appropriate locale for this attitude, having given us Vince Lombardi’s famous quote, “Winning is the only thing.” Unless the other side wins?

In my home state of South Carolina, the General Assembly is contemplating a move from open to closed primaries.  It would mark the de facto return of the Jim Crow white primary, since the majority of the 40 percent of South Carolinians who identify as Democrats are people of color.  In many cases, the only time a South Carolina voter has a choice is in the primary, because the Republican primary winner frequently faces little or no opposition in the general election. Many of us treasure the right to pick which primary to vote in, depending on what’s at stake.

I have just published a book on Amazon with the title Passionately Moderate: Civic Virtue and Democracy (available in both electronic and paperback format).  I am passionate about democracy, and that passion means that winning comes second to maintaining healthy processes and listening to one another and yes, that dreaded word, compromise. I am encouraged to see the wheels of justice slowly turning in the case of those who would undermine democracy and exercise the tyranny of the minority by suppressing dissenting voices. But it is no time for complacency. It is well past time for all of us to wake up to the very real threat that we could lose our precious but fragile right to self-governance.

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