Just a few days after the murder of three nine-year-old children and three staff members at a private Christian school in Nashville by a deranged, transgender former student, a crowd of angry protestors gathered outside the Tennessee statehouse demanding gun control. This is a knee-jerk reaction of emotional, frustrated people that simplistically believe gun control is the remedy to end these mass shootings.
As tempers rose at the Tennessee protest, a mob of protesters broke off and spilled into the state Capitol led by two young black representatives, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who entered the House chamber and took over the lectern in the well, demanding gun control. They proceeded to stir up the mob with a bullhorn, shouting chants like, “No action, no peace,” echoed by fellow protestors in the upper spectators gallery. All this, drowning out deliberations on the House floor where their colleagues had been going about their legislative business.
Several days later, in the calm of reflection, the Republican-controlled Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel Reps. Jones and Pearson for breaking House decorum rules. Rep. Andrew Farmer, who sponsored the expulsion resolutions, explained, “Just because you don’t get your way, you can’t come to the well, bring your friends and throw a temper tantrum with an adolescent bullhorn.”
(The pair have since been reinstated to the state legislature by county officials in their respective House districts, as is permitted under Tennessee law. So, the whole thing was an act by the perpetrators.)
Predictably exploiting the opportunity for political gain, President Biden (or whoever writes this kind of stuff for him) had promptly tweeted, “Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protestors calling for action. It’s shocking, undemocratic and without precedent. Rep. Justin Pearson has claimed, “This is what democracy looks like.”
They’re both blatantly wrong. First, Biden. Jones and Pearson weren’t punished for joining protestors calling for action. They were punished for breaking the rules of their legislative body. The mob that stormed the Capitol and disrupted the proceedings of the legislature wasn’t exactly “peaceful,” as the video shows. Had they been, they’d have listened quietly and politely to the House deliberation. Jones and Pearson were expelled, democratically, in a super-majority vote of the House. And this kind of thing is not unprecedented. Members of the U.S. Congress have also been expelled for bad behavior.
Despite Pearson’s claim, this incident in the Tennessee statehouse is not what democracy looks like. It’s what anarchy looks like. The term “democracy” has its roots in ancient Greece, derived from the Greek word “demos,” and refers to rule by the ordinary people. Pundits and politicians often use it loosely to include nations with institutions like fair elections, representative government, property rights, due process, freedom of speech, the press and religion. In practice, the degree of those rights varies wildly from one “democracy” to another, say, from the USA to the brutal, intolerant theocracy in Iran, to the totalitarian “Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea.” In a pure democracy, all policies would be determined by a plebiscite: a direct, majority vote of the people. This is impractical.
Our nation’s founders created a constitutional republic, with the wishes of “the people” filtered through their elected representatives. The word “democracy,” appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. (However, Article IV does guarantee a “republican form of government.”) To protect individual rights from the tyranny of the majority our republic tempers majority rule with purposefully anti-democratic guard rails like the Bill of Rights; the Supreme Court; the Senate, with two seats for every state regardless of population; ratification by a super majority of three-fourths of the states to amend the Constitution, and others.
Tennessee is a solidly Republican state with a Republican governor and big Republican majorities in the state legislature. Jones and Pearson represent solidly Democrat House districts, but they do not speak for most Tennesseans. They have a voice in the legislature representing their constituents but are routinely outvoted by the GOP majority. That’s also what democracy looks like.
Democracy is not disruptive mobs shouting down lawmakers at work. The actions of the mob drowned out deliberations and debate in the Tennessee legislature was the debasement of pluralistic democracy. It’s just a version of the “hecklers veto.” It was dogma in the form of arrogant, intolerant opinion that allows no dissent. They should take that out to the streets for a theatrical protest —— but peacefully. Governor Bill Lee has called on legislators to produce a thoughtful, practical gun control bill to protect the public while preserving the constitutional gun rights of the people. Radicals like Jones and Pearson won’t like it.
Come to think of it, Republican legislators are routinely outvoted by an overwhelming Democrat majority in Colorado, most recently in an ineffective, feel-good gun control bill. Do you suppose those Democrats would approve of Republicans behaving like Jones, Pearson, and their angry mob in our statehouse?
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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