Methods to Silence dissent

When Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned Senator Jeff Sessions qualification to be the nominee for Attorney General, the Senate voted to silence her from further participation in the debate. Her crime was declining a “Hobson’s Choice.” Hobson was an English keeper of a livery stable, 1544 – 1632. He required customers to take either the horse nearest the stable door or no horse at all. There would be no discussion about the qualifications of the proffered horse. Senator Warren, by choosing to question the proffered choice, was in effect suggesting Sessions might not be the best candidate and the motives of the person nominating him might not be fully transparent. The Senate declared these suggestions broke the rules and were unacceptable.

This incident is an example of one of the several methods used to silence dissent since the new administration took office. It is important for citizens to recognize and name these techniques to discredit anyone who opposes an idea or action of the President or the majority party in the House and Senate. The issues needing attention in our country are too important to be overshadowed by such duplicity.

In addition to Hobson’s Choice, we have recently been subjected to innuendo, double speak (simultaneous opposing positions), shifting the focus, making up information, fear/bullying, and divide and conquer. Innuendo serves to plant suggestions of possible impropriety without stating it as a fact. Slippery language is employed such as, “I’m just asking whether…” or “people are wondering about…” For example, President Trump said about the Iran nuclear agreement, “some people say it’s the worse than stupidity… There’s something going on… I’m not saying that, half the people in this room are saying it.” (The bold is my emphasis for demonstration). Commenting on the appellate court ruling against reinstating his refugee and immigration executive order Trump said, “I don’t ever want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased.” However, he has planted the suggestion that the court is biased.

An example of double speak is affirming two conflicting positions. For example, one day Trump criticized the CIA for its ineptness. A few days later he tells a gathered group of 200 CIA employees that they are great and their work is outstanding.   However, he not only takes two opposing positions, he then shifts the focus to the untrustworthiness of the press. He declares the press falsely reported that he criticized the CIA. At another time he sends a double message when he says, “America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave” while he signs an order blocking people from entering our country to seek freedom from persecution and war and rejecting brave people who have put their lives in danger by aiding the United States as military translators and with other duties.

Then there are times when information is created with no basis in reality. Trump insists that at his inauguration there were “a million and a half people” filling the mall all the way back to Washington Monument.  However, photographs show several blocks empty of people.   Trump proclaimed “a million and a half people” were there, contradicting photographs and the statistic of only 500,000 people passing through the transit system.   And when the Mexican president canceled a meeting with Trump, Trump followed up the announcement with the claim it was “a mutual decision.”  Another example is his claim of voter fraud in New Hampshire without any evidence to back up his statement.

Initiating a climate of fear and bullying has also become a familiar ploy.  Concerning reports of protests against his immigration executive order Trump tweeted, “Professional anarchists, thugs and paid protesters are proving the point of the millions of people who voted to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” (Feb.3, 2017).

He lashed out at the judge who put a temporarily hold on the order: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!” And feeding fear he tweeted, “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”   Packed into these tweets are name-calling, labeling, misinformation (paid protesters), threats ( blame the judge), and fear.

There is another practice that manipulates citizens: divide and conquer. This narrative includes declaring the press untruthful. It defames government officials, the elite, scientists, and intellectuals. “I’m going to drain the swamp,” quoth Trump. He cautions against untrustworthy immigrants, refugees, and Islamic terrorists, and contrasts them with persecuted Christians. Among all of these groups, the only true American people worthy of praise are those who thrived in the post second world war society and who agree with the Trump agenda and his judgment of all others. As American people we are being pitted against each other. Meanwhile, the very wealthy are able to continue advocating only for themselves: increasing their wealth, power, and influence over the government and the bulk of the American people.

These contrivances to “Make America Great Again” take us back to when women were second-class citizens. When there were segregated schools, bus stations, and lunch counters. When gays felt they had to hide their orientation or risk their jobs or sometimes their lives. When Christianity was the only acceptable American expression of faith in God. When Arabs were depicted as aggressive, evil, and backward. When Jews were not able to buy a home in some of our New Hampshire communities.

It is imperative to expose and reject all of these duplicitous efforts to deceive and divide Americans. The alternative is to focus on issues instead of people. When workers loose their jobs we all loose. When the wealthy get richer, the rest of us struggle. When injustice exists none of us are free. We will be a greater America when our unity as human beings guides our dependence upon one another and responsibility to one another, no matter who we are or from where we come. Focusing together on the issues of wages, health care, pensions, infrastructure, international relationships, and the environment can nurture the skills and wisdom inherent in humanity.   Now that, Hobson, is a real choice.


Published by


A refocused (retiree) United Church of Christ clergy person, essayist, and sandy soil gardener living at Minds Crossing in Concord, NH. Served with the World Council of Churches as an EAPPI volunteer, August - October 2010 and as a Global Ministries long-term volunteer to Kairos Palestine, 2013 - 2015. Member of the Peace with Justice Advocates, NH Conference of the United Church of Christ. Past chair of the national United Church of Christ Palestine / Israel Network (UCC PIN). Give powerpoint presentations concerning life in the occupied Palestinian territories (West Bank and East Jerusalem).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s