What exactly does Legitimate Political Discourse mean? In the U.S., we have the freedom to articulate our opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation, censorship, or legal sanction. Although there are limits to this, we are generally allowed to speak our opinions freely. We can truthfully talk about our political opinions without fear of deportation. We can openly protest about issues that the government doesn’t support. We can have debates between people with different points of view. These are all examples of political discourse. Since freedom of speech is legal in the U.S, these are also all examples of legitimate political discourse.
However, a violent attack on the U.S Capital is certainly not legitimate political discourse. Though that’s just what the Republican National Committee believes. The RNC declared that Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger were participating in the “persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse” (NYT). As a result, the RNC voted to censure Cheney and Kinzinger. A violent insurrection took place on January 6th. Trying to call that legitimate political discourse is absurd. 5 people died that day. 140 officers were injured. There were 30 million dollars in damages. It was an assault on our democracy and one of the worst days in American history. And yet, it seems that the RNC finds January 6th acceptable. They believe the people who attacked our capital were “ordinary citizens.” They believe that attacking the U.S capital is equivalent to legitimate political discourse.
GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tried to clear this up by later claiming the “ordinary citizens” referred to were not those who attacked the capital (Twitter). Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that the RNC did not thoroughly examine the resolution. They absolutely could have specified in the original statement that the ‘ordinary citizens’ were not the insurrectionists at the Capitol. But they decided to not do that. Instead, through their choice of words, they embraced the viewpoint that the assault on our capital was acceptable. As a result, future generations will follow in their footsteps. They will think political violence is okay because it is “legitimate political discourse.”
Even if the RNC was not referring to those who attacked the capital, the leader of their own party engaged in illegitimate political discourse that day. The first amendment does not protect speech when it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action” and is “likely to incite or produce such action,” (Cornell Law School). In his speech before the riot, Former President Trump told supporters, “we’re going to walk down to the Capitol … You have to show strength, and you have to be strong,” (Poynter). Donald Trump’s “incitement of insurrection” was the reason he was impeached for a second time. While Trump was not convicted, ten Republican House members voted for impeachment, including Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney. Both of them are also on the January 6th Committee investigating the attack. Their only crime is aggressively seeking the truth. Responding to the censure, Cheney said, “I’m a constitutional conservative and I do not recognize those in my party who have abandoned the Constitution to embrace Donald Trump. History will be their judge. I will never stop fighting for our constitutional republic. No matter what.”