Barely a week goes by without our political atmosphere becoming more noxious and the rhetoric growing more heated. A recent incident at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, highlights the toxicity of today’s discourse, especially on the Left.
On May 11, someone at the Twitter account for the Young Democratic Socialists at the University of Georgia retweeted an article about a professor who said that Republicans in Congress should be rounded up and shot with, “This is absolutely outrageous. House Republicans should NOT be shot! They should be guillotined.”
The group has since deleted the tweet — and the rest of their account — but, fortunately for us, screen shots are forever.
Student group at University of Georgia calls for execution of House GOP members. –> @ydsuga
Media completely ignored! pic.twitter.com/tGChBnLwWr
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) June 14, 2017
Campus newspaper The Red & Black notes that the organization’s former leader claims the tweet was a joke (because the only jokes anyone can make today must come at the expense of conservatives):
According to David Littman, founder of the Young Democratic Socialists, the inflammatory tweet was intended as a joke and should not be taken literally.
“I wouldn’t have made that joke myself, but it is clearly and obviously facetious,” Littmann said. “As a strict pacifist, I believe that all violence is immoral, period. But it’s absurd to take the joke literally.”
For what it’s worth, Littman graduated from UGA in 2016 and is no longer affiliated with the organization.
As any organization worth its salt would, the University of Georgia is looking into the matter, as it relayed on Twitter:
UGA response to Young Democratic Socialists student group tweet: pic.twitter.com/RA2EJy3eZG
— UGA (@universityofga) June 14, 2017
Shortly after UGA’s response to the offending tweet, the Young Democratic Socialists decided to distance themselves from the university and change their name to the Athens Democratic Socialists of America. As Breitbart reports:
“Recent events have made clear that the only way forward is through the democratic will and revolutionary spirit of our members and community. The Young Democratic Socialists student group at the University of Georgia has voted unanimously to distance itself from UGA and restructure its platform to meet the needs of its members and the larger Athens community,” according to a post the group made on Facebook.
The group later backed off from the tweet, claimed that the screen shots of the offending words were “edited,” and issued somewhat of an expression of regret as a response to both the controversy the tweet caused and the shooting in Alexandria, Va., according to Online Athens:
A volunteer had posted the tweet without permission, and the group had changed its social media policy “to ensure that we manage our communications more carefully,” according to the post.
“It is unfortunate that images of this post were edited to make it look like a twisted response to the recent tragedy,” the post read in part. “We condemn all forms of violence.”
“We offer our condolences to the families of the wounded during this difficult time,” the post concluded.
Interestingly enough, one organization has lined up to claim that UGA is trampling on free speech with its investigation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose stated mission is “to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities,” is looking into the investigation. Online Athens reports:
“The context makes it pretty clear, especially since they were responding to another tweet, that they were not making any kind of serious threat,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Program.
Any sanctions UGA imposed on the UGA Young Democratic Socialists would be a violation of the group’s free speech rights; in fact, UGA’s announcement that it would investigate the group might be a violation because of the chilling effect it could have, Cohn said.
Regardless of what UGA does — and FIRE may have a point, as they have investigated similar cases involving all side of the political spectrum as well as religious freedom — the tweet epitomizes all that’s wrong with our current political debate. Both sides need to rein in their rhetoric, and the left in particular should work to tone down the violence that tinges the cries of its partisans.