There are ways to censor expressions of dissent. In this Congress session, it is the lack of “decorum” that stands out. Both in the House and in the Senate, the word has been used to intimidate lawmakers through fines and to selectively enable rules to avoid actions or comments that may make the legislative majority uncomfortable.
Acting with decorum means acting in a proper, courteous manner. It is ironic to see that Trump-era Republicans are the ones complaining of rudeness. With his mockery and insults, this president has shown the greatest lack of decorum that anyone can remember. And legislators did not behave any better toward President Obama, with racism and contempt showing through their criticism and questioning.
The thing is that Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was forbidden from pronouncing her speech in the Senate floor during the debate over the controversial nomination of Jeff Sessions for Secretary of Justice. To shut her up, a rule of decorum in which a legislator may not question another one’s integrity was invoked.
Warren’s violation was to repeat a quote that the late Senator Ted Kennedy uttered during a hearing in the 1980s, when Sessions was appointed federal judge. In addition, she read a letter written for the same occasion by Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King, opposing Sessions.
Times are changing for the worse. The words that yesterday served to reject Sessions’ nomination as federal judge – because he was considered an extremist who opposed protecting the voting rights of African-Americans – may not be pronounced today when the same person is promoted to the highest position in charge of guarding the rights and protections of minorities.
A few weeks before the start of the lower chamber’s legislative session, the GOP majority granted power to the Congress’ Sergeant at Arms to fine any Congress member live-streaming proceedings. They said that the stream via Periscope made by a group of Democrats as they protested the body’s refusal to vote on firearm control in 2016 was indecorous.
Today, it is not decorous, but costly, for a legislator to produce anything in Congress that may upset the majority, who has control of the television cameras.
The real lack of decorum toward the people of the United States is the hypocritical act of censoring a sacred place for expression as is the Legislature.