Threats of violence and persecution have no place in Nebraska’s gubernatorial contest

March 21, 2022 3:00 am

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We Nebraskans are freedom lovers. Like Americans everywhere, we cherish our rights as free citizens because our forebears paid dearly for them.

But our rights are paired with grave responsibilities. For example, how do we define our freedoms such that our society in deed, as well as in words, reflects a fair, egalitarian approach to self-governance? How do we as democracy’s owner-caretakers protect and promote what the framers called the common weal, while still respecting traditional individual freedoms that define the American experience?

The answer is simple — the Constitution defines our rights and freedoms — but in practice, the varieties of human interaction pose complex legal questions that are argued daily in our courts, our state legislatures, in Congress, and when these institutions fail, sometimes in the streets. It’s an endless play, with endless acts, some violent and emotional. Ultimately, however, rather than violence, our “civil disagreements” require the measured application of uniquely civilized democratic instruments: compromise and mutual respect.

Indeed, compromise via rational discourse is an essential part of this or any democracy. As the old saw goes, good legislation results in everyone getting something they want and no one getting everything they want. Willingness to compromise acknowledges another foundational tenet of democracy: respect for the outcomes of the democratic process. It is paramount that politicians respect voters and their legitimate opponents, especially when they are defeated by them.

But not all have the patience for democracy’s deliberative mechanisms. Today, some so-called expressions of perceived “freedoms” are nothing more than unrestrained license. These provocateurs will say the immediacy of the “threat” to their perceived freedoms — or to the nation itself — justifies their violence. It’s what radical extremists — left or right — always say.

Of course, we already endured our biggest dose of “corrective” mob activism in more than a century on Jan. 6, 2021. It was preceded by years of skirmishes in Charlottesville, Portland, Berkeley, Michigan (where a kidnapping of the governor was planned) and many other places. Much was lost. In the end, our nation teetered on the brink of chaos.

What was gained?

One year later in Nebraska, the richest and therefore most prominent contender for governor has turned his business success into a Trump-approved candidacy. (Charles Herbster is his campaign’s biggest donor by far.) Herbster was there in the Capitol on Jan. 6, enthusiastically supporting — as he still does — the radical revisionist agenda of the former president. Do we want a Nebraska governor who denies the results of our vote and promises open hostility to Nebraska’s hard-working immigrants and refugees — one who says many immigrants crossing the southern border of the U.S. “want to destroy the country”?

Or how about Jim Pillen, who like Herbster seems unaware of the issues, but who pledges intolerance for domestic “enemies” like Dr. Anthony Fauci — as he cocks a shotgun in an awkward attempt at looking tough? Yet he fears a moderated debate with his more experienced primary opponents.

These are not rhetorical questions. Only you can hand political power to these men.

Our laws and faith traditions bind us and require us to seek nonviolent answers to America’s many social questions. But now, as in times past, some Americans’ intolerance of other Americans threatens the peace that lawful societies enjoy. Indeed, the path of peace is threatened the moment any would-be political strongman hints at “Second Amendment solutions” or “the possibility” of violence that may be “unavoidable if I don’t win.”

To those who believe that threats of violence and intimidation of the less powerful can be useful campaign tools, I have nothing to say. To the rest, I will repeat what you’ve no doubt heard before: Do the right thing as you know it to be in your heart. What Martin Luther King Jr. termed the “fierce urgency of now” compels us again, today, to make our strongest possible counter bid for a peaceful, respectful society.

Doing that is incredibly easy: We simply refuse to support any candidate who excuses, calls for or even hints at violence or persecution as legitimate means to political ends.

I promise there are other, honorable candidates to consider. If not your first pick, the civil candidate is at least much more likely to have the temperament and the judgment needed to effectively contribute to our democracy. And nobody gets hurt.

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Gregory Wees
Gregory Wees

Gregory Wees is a University of Nebraska alumnus, former Iowa Western Community College adjunct faculty member and former executive editor for CEGA Publishing in Lincoln, Nebraska. He lives in Omaha with his wife, Coreen.