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A Caning for Thee but Not for Me

— September 10, 2018

Mike Huckabee proposed caning protesters; Trump suggested they should be illegal. How would the Tea Party have liked corporal punishment and crackdowns?

Earlier this month, an Islamic court in Malaysia sentenced two women to caning for pursuing a sexual relationship with each other. The women, ages 22 and 32, were each struck six times with a rattan cane by a female prison officer as witnesses looked on. The Terengganu state government and Sharia lawyers pointed out that the women were fully dressed during their punishment, which they say was not intended to be brutal or oppressive, but rather to serve as a lesson in Islamic law for onlookers. Opinions, of course, vary, with other legal practitioners, human rights advocates, and LGBT groups condemning the sentence as degrading and inhuman. While the older woman stood stoically as she was beaten, the younger woman sobbed as the caning began.

Americans might consider this punishment barbaric, and rightfully so. They may also be glad they live in a “free country,” where things like this “don’t happen.” Perhaps. But we in America have our own conservative social and religious streak running through our culture. So far, it has (more or less) been held at bay by a strong progressive tradition that values individual freedom, but that may not always be the case going forward.

Consider Mike Huckabee. The former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee still retains a jaunty “Gov” in front of his Twitter handle, despite now being little more than a failed Republican presidential wannabe and conservative talking head. When he saw protesters making a fuss during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate hearing, Huckabee tweeted his condemnation. “How did those rude loons disrupting the Kavanaugh hearings get in there? Clear the room or start caning them when they open their yaps! Durbin says it’s voice of democracy. No sir–it’s the voice of ppl w/o basic manners or respect for others,” he wrote.

Mike Huckabee suggested that we ought to start caning protesters. Just like Sharia law demanded the caning of two women in love.

Let’s think about that.

Step with me into a time machine, if you will, and let’s go all the way back to late summer, 2016 – ancient history now – in Wilmington, North Carolina. Presidential candidate Donald Trump stood up in front of a crowd and warned them about the possibility of Hillary Clinton’s judicial nominations. “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” Wink wink, nudge nudge.

Now that Trump is nominating judges just as abhorrent to his opposition as Clinton’s would have been to hers (or worse!), they are protesting by using their First Amendment rights. Would Trump, or Huckabee, prefer that they use their Second Amendment rights instead? Why does it seem that violence is always the rhetorical answer to pushback against right-wing conservatism, whether it’s the subtle suggestion that gun advocates assassinate a hypothetical President Clinton over judicial nominations, or that nonviolent verbal protests of a conservative nominee should result in caning?

Let’s take another time hop, this time to President Obama’s State of the Union speech in 2009. Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi, stood to deliver the Constitutionally mandated address. Speaking to conservative concerns about his new health care legislation, he mentioned that it wouldn’t cover undocumented immigrants. Just then, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) yelled “You Lie!” at the President.

If Huckabee had his way, Wilson, a protester without basic manners or respect (not to mention factually incorrect), would have deserved a caning for opening his yap. As it happened, Wilson apologized for the incident, but he wasn’t the only protester that evening, just the loudest. Should all the disrespectful Republican protesters have been caned or expelled?

A Tea Party protester holds a sign that says, "We are not retreating, we are reloading."
Mike Huckabee proposed caning protesters; Trump suggested they should be illegal. How would the Tea Party have liked corporal punishment and crackdowns? Here, a protester holds a sign at a Tea Party tax day protest in 2010. Photo by Fibonacci Blue, via Flickr. Background cropped. CC BY 2.0

Finally, let’s revisit any Tea Party protest rally. Spawned soon after President Obama took office, the Tea Party (which has since folded itself into the pro-Trump movement) focused its anger by attending protest events and pestering their representatives in government, tactics adopted later by liberal groups like Indivisible. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, President Trump has advocated making protest illegal or punishing it violently, something he often touched upon during the campaign. Can you imagine what would have happened if Barack Obama had suggested such a thing during the heydey of the Tea Party? Or if some washed-up former Democratic governor had suggested caning them? There would have been hell to pay.

And all of this, we’re constantly reminded, is done in the name of Freedom. Oh, yes, the open-carrying Tea Partiers, the tiki-torch wielding neo-Nazis, the III%ers, the growing police state, the glorification of the military (but not so much the homeless veterans), deportations of natural-born citizens, death threats against Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter, “Lock Her Up,” the caning of protesters, that’s how people show they love freedom, isn’t it? That’s how they express the highest of American virtues, by raining down violence and threats of violence against the opposition, and then turning around, all doe-eyed, whimpering about “civility” when they’re politely asked to leave a restaurant (but anti-gay bakers who refuse service are religious heroes). That’s how we know the preaching about freedom is a sham. Sit down and shut up, say people like Huckabee: it’s freedom for me, but not for thee.

Related: Liberals Begin Reconsidering Gun Culture


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