Charlottesville and the Bill of Rights

El Bandolero is having some difficulty with the lack of any mention of First Amendment in the post-event discussions about Charlottesville. The popular outcry is totally against the white supremacist neo-Nazis who gathered at the park to protest the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue. It seems to Bandolero that, regardless of how many people may have disagreed with their position or their rhetoric, they were well within their First Amendment rights to be there and to say whatever they damn well pleased (short of inciting violence or treason, of course). There would have been no violence if, instead of trying to out-demonstrate and shout down the white supremacists, people would have simply ignored them. White supremacists are a total embarrassment to themselves. It is not necessary to try deny them their First Amendment rights. Counter-demonstrators are not needed. If people feel it necessary to respond to their speeches, they can certainly have their own demonstration. Neither demonstration should have the purpose of interfering with, or silencing, the other demonstration. But, what should have been a gathering of anti-supremacist protestors intent upon expressing a different opinion was, instead, a gathering of anti-supremacist protestors intent upon confronting and silencing the supremacists. Violence in some form was inevitable.

The reports Bandolero has seen state that the perpetrator of the fatal violence was a supremacist from Ohio and, yet, blame for the fatality (indeed, for all the violence) is laid at the feet of the supremacists as a group. We haven’t seen reports of how many of the supremacists and how many of the anti-supremacists were from outside of Virginia. We suspect virtually all of the supremacists were “outsiders”, and that most, if not virtually all, of the anti-supremacists were likewise “outsiders”. We suspect that if the event had consisted entirely of Charlottesville residents, or even Virginia residents, there wouldn’t have been more than a handful of people protesting removal of the statue; nor more than a handful protesting their protest In any event, one would not have seen the degree of agitation and, ultimately, violence that transpired.

It is unfortunate that monuments to Southern heritage have come to be viewed by a majority of people as tributes to slavery, or at least to a time before blacks started demanding equality. It seems to Bandolero that if this were the intention for a monument, there would be more statues of Jim Crow in town squares in the South. Maybe that would just be too blatant. We heard a black perspective explained on a news show; that these monuments and statues were not erected until around 100 years after the Civil War, and were erected not for the purpose of memorializing historical events or people but , rather, to remind the black population of where the ruling white sentiment stood in the face of the civil rights movement. It is, of course, natural and understandable that any memorial to the Southern past would, to a black person, first and foremost symbolize slavery and stand as a white tribute to a time when whites were supreme and blacks were slaves. But it is a mistake to presume that all whites, or even very many whites, see the same symbolism.

The Civil War came to be politically a war about slavery. Its seeds, however, were concerns about states’ rights in the face of burgeoning federalism. The “South” developed a growing resentment against federal intrusion and control over commerce, taxation and governance which they considered to exceed the powers the states had agreed to grant to the Union as expressed in the Constitution. There were several elements to this intrusion, one of which was slavery. The South did not secede from the Union solely to preserve the institution of slavery. However, slavery became the politically effective rallying cry for Northern support of the use of force in response to the South’s secession.

People like Robert E. Lee stood for several ideals other than slavery. They saw themselves standing for the right of a citizenry to sever ties and declare independence from an oppressive government, along the same lines that thirteen colonies had severed ties and declared independence from England less than a hundred years earlier. The South’s black population, however, could not see the larger picture that led up to the South’s secession. Bandolero is not saying they did not have the capacity to comprehend it. Bandolero is saying that it was outside the scope of their lives and their experiences. They were slaves. They were not participants in the state legislatures where arguments and decisions were made about laws and economy and taxes and whether or not a state should join the movement toward secession from the Union. The black experience did not include a history of struggle against a monarchy, a struggle against taxation without representation, a Boston Tea Party, or facing a trained army’s muskets at Lexington. The black experience and history was first, foremost and entirely one of suffering oppession and degradation at the hands of white masters. It is easy to see how any monument relative to Southern experience prior to emancipation or the Civil Rights Act would be seen by blacks as a monument to white masters and black subjugation.

As has become the norm these days, when there are two or more “sides”, each one views the others from an “all or nothing” perspective. The one thing as to which there can be no compromise overshadows and precludes not only appreciation but also discussion of other matters as to which there could be discussion and compromise or even commong ground. So, which side is guiltier of inability to see or to respect the other side’s perspective? Bandolero is well aware it would be politically incorrect to argue that blacks should put aside their blinders and learn to appreciate the heritage that many Southerners perceive in their statues and monuments. And, frankly, Bandolero would not espouse this argument. Their blinders are the result of generations of slavery, indignity, disrespect and subservience to the white race. The white blinders, by comparison, are not the result of generations of either physical or psychological suffering and degradation, but are the result of the inability to fathom and appreciate the justification for the black blinders.

That said, Bandolero’s position is that everybody ought to shed their blinders, everybody ought to view everybody else through glasses tinted only by empathy and tolerance, and everybody ought to view everybody else’s totems as nothing more or less than what they stand for in the minds of their creators and their compatriots, not as what they may be perceived to symbolize in the minds of others or their compatriots.

El Bandolero will take this opportunity to express a fear that is related to the above remarks. It is the fear of the majority. Bandolero has been hearing the word “majority” a lot these days. One context everybody has seen pertains to the last presidential election. One often hears Mr. Trump’s legitimacy as president challenged because he didn’t get a majority of the votes; the majority of votes went to Ms. Clinton. Far too often, people have forgotten, or chose to ignore, that one of the most fundamental tenets of the Consitution and Bill of Rights is the protection of minorities and, especially, the rights of minorities. The foundation of our country guarantees that a majority cannot deprive a minority of its rights, or its existence. A majority of our citizens, even a super majority, cannot decide that a certain minority is to be deprived of life, liberty or pursuit of happiness, or that a certain minority is to be silenced and shall not have the right to assemble nor to petition the government for grievances. And, yet, in the aftermath of an event such as Charlottesville, Bandolero has seen many statements to the effect that “these people must not be allowed to spew their hatred and bigotry”. Bandolero suspects that if it were put to a vote, a vast majority of Americans would vote to either silence the white supremacists or expel them from the country. Of course, if it were legal to do so, a majority could silence the Republican party or disqualify any Republican candidate from taking office if somehow elected.

The First Amendment guarantees the right of everyone and anyone to speak their opinions and messages, however repugnant. The right is not conditioned upon the opinion or message being palatable or acceptable to the majority, nor upon it being inoffensive. David Duke and others like him have the right to assemble and to speak. More and more often these days, however, one encounters remarks along the line, “We revoked ______’s invitation to speak at _________ because his/her views are repugnant to the views and morals of a majority of our ________.”

Our nation’s founding fathers (Bandolero does not shrink from a phrase that everyone understands just because it uses a sexist word like “fathers” instead of substituting the PC term “persons”) knew that “the majority” could not be simply trusted to always do the right thing. So they put the protection of the rights of minorities in writing, in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Bandolero, for one, is not amenable to deleting such protections, even if it be the will of the majority. If “majority rules” becomes the credo of the United States, it shall have abandoned the foundation upon which it was built.

About Bandolero

Bandolero is an acrominical phoneme dissimilar in many ways from the phenominal esprit de la monastic pheronome widely observed in the montanas and sometimes mistaken for somebody else.