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‘I was Screaming Before You Interrupted Me’:
American Politics has Become Amplified Rage
Jonathan Turley

Below is my column in the Hill on the Tennessee controversy over the expulsion of two Tennessee legislators. Liberal members and pundits have lionized the two legislators who shutdown the proceedings while declaring the GOP “fascists.” The controversy perfectly captured our increasingly amplified age of rage.

Here is the column:

Nobel Laureate Albert Camus once said, “Insurrection is certainly not the sum total of human experience but … it is our historic reality.” Those words came to mind this week when Tennessee’s House of Representatives expelled two members accused of disrupting legislative proceedings in what some called an “insurrection” or a “mutiny.”

The scene on the floor of the Tennessee House perfectly captured our “age of rage.” Protesters filled the capitol building to protest the failure to pass gun-control legislation. However, they were in the minority in both the state and its legislature. Three Democratic state representatives — Justin Jones from Nashville, Justin Pearson from Memphis, and Gloria Johnson of Knoxville — were unwilling to yield to the majority. They disrupted the floor proceedings with a bullhorn and screaming at their colleagues.

It is a scene familiar to many of us in academia, where events are regularly canceled by those who shout down others. The three members yelled “No action, no peace” and “Power to the people” as their colleagues objected to their stopping the legislative process. Undeterred, the three refused to allow “business as usual” to continue.

Nothing says deliberative debate like a bullhorn. American politics, it seems, has become a matter of simple amplification.

Many on the left lionized the three for their disruption of the legislature. President Biden denounced the sanctioning of their “peaceful protest” as “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”

There was little criticism of the members for obstructing the legislative business or refusing to accept the democratic process that rejected their gun-control demands.

Today, for many, there is no room for nuance. Instead, they live in a world occupied only by “fascists” and “insurrectionists.”

I have long been critical of the media declaring the Jan. 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill as an “insurrection” in spite of my criticism of Trump’s speech on that day and the riot that desecrated our constitutional process. Many in the public agree. Despite the efforts of the House’s Jan. 6 committee and the media referring to the riot as an insurrection, some polls show that 76 percent of the public view it as a protest that went too far. Likewise, a Harvard study showed more citizens viewed Jan. 6 as motivated by loyalty to Trump than a desire for a national insurrection.

The public sees these distinctions. Most of us are supportive of the prosecution of rioters while recognizing that most of the protesters that day did not participate in any violation of law. Likewise, most citizens are able to denounce members for taking a bullhorn to a legislative debate while rejecting calls for their expulsion.

What these Tennessee House members did was wrong — but it was no insurrection. Nor was it worthy of expulsion, as opposed to censure or other sanctions.

Yet, every controversy is now repackaged to amplify talking points, even when they cannot withstand the most cursory examination.

Take Rep. Johnson’s insistence that, as the only white member of the three, she was spared expulsion due to racism. That ignored distinctions raised by Johnson and her supporters during the debate that, unlike Jones and Pearson, she did not use a bullhorn; her counsel also insisted that she separated herself from the protesters. Johnson’s distinctions swayed one member to defeat expulsion, but Johnson then declared the result was evidence of sexism and racism: “pretty clear I’m a 60-year-old white woman, and they are two young Black men. I was talked down to as a woman, man-splained to.”

The media was also captured perfectly in this controversy. For example, it was difficult to distinguish between CNN reporter Sara Sidner and protesters. Sidner corrected Republican Caucus Chair Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) as he tried to explain why the members were expelled for “riling up” the crowd. Sidner insisted that the crowd already was “riled up” by the failure to protect them from guns. She then explained that the public was “extremely upset that your legislature wasn’t trying to deal with the issue of keeping children safe.”

House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis) praised the protest as “good trouble,” a reference to the words of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis’ guiding principle on civil disobedience.

This is now our “historic reality.” Liberals and the media, long criticized for downplaying violence from the left, are now rationalizing a disruption of legislative procedure as “good trouble” because the cause is considered to be correct. Conservatives are equally quick to declare protests by those on the left to be “insurrections,” or to declare their opponents to be (in the words of Donald Trump) “enemies of the state.”

Only a few days before the Tennessee House floor fight, a confrontation occurred off the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington which captured perfectly this new political reality.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) was shown on videotape screaming about gun control in the Capitol as his colleagues left the floor following a vote. Various Democratic members, including former House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), tried to calm Bowman. However, when Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) asked Bowman to stop yelling, Bowman shouted back: “I was screaming before you interrupted me” — which could go down as the epitaph for our age.



Professor Jonathan Turley is a nationally recognized legal scholar who has written extensively in areas ranging from constitutional law to legal theory to tort law. He has written over three dozen academic articles that have appeared in a variety of leading law journals at Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, University of Chicago, and other schools.

After a stint at Tulane Law School, Professor Turley joined the George Washington faculty in 1990 and, in 1998, was given the prestigious Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law, the youngest chaired professor in the school’s history. In addition to his extensive publications, Professor Turley has served as counsel in some of the most notable cases in the last two decades including the representation of whistleblowers, military personnel, judges, members of Congress, and a wide range of other clients. He is also one of the few attorneys to successfully challenge both a federal and a state law — leading to courts striking down the federal Elizabeth Morgan law as well as the state criminalization of cohabitation.

In 2010, Professor Turley represented Judge G. Thomas Porteous in his impeachment trial. After a trial before the Senate, Professor Turley (on December 7, 2010) argued both the motions and gave the final argument to all 100 U.S. Senators from the well of the Senate floor — only the 14th time in history of the country that such a trial of a judge has reached the Senate floor. Judge Porteous was convicted of four articles of impeachments, including the acceptance of $2000 from an attorney and using a false name on a bankruptcy filing.

In 2011, Professor Turley filed a challenge to the Libyan War on behalf of ten members of Congress, including Representatives Roscoe Bartlett (R., Md); Dan Burton (R., Ind.); Mike Capuano (D., Mass.); Howard Coble (R., N.C.); John Conyers (D., Mich.); John J. Duncan (R., Tenn.); Tim Johnson (R., Ill.); Walter Jones (R., N.C.); Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio); and Ron Paul (R., Tx). The lawsuit was before the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

In November 2014, Turley agreed to serve as lead counsel to the United States House of Representatives in its constitutional challenge to changes ordered by President Obama to the Affordable Care Act. The litigation was approved by the House of Representatives to seek judicial review of the claims under the separation of powers. On May 12, 2016, the federal court handed down a historic victory for the House and ruled that the Obama Administration violated the separation of powers in ordering billions to be paid to insurance companies without an appropriation of Congress.

Other cases include his representation of the Area 51 workers at a secret air base in Nevada; the nuclear couriers at Oak Ridge, Tennessee; the Rocky Flats grand jury in Colorado; Dr. Eric Foretich, the husband in the famous Elizabeth Morgan custody controversy; and four former United States Attorneys General during the Clinton impeachment litigation. In the Foretich case, Turley succeeded recently in reversing a trial court and striking down a federal statute through a rare “bill of attainder” challenge. Professor Turley has also served as counsel in a variety of national security cases, including espionage cases like that of Jim Nicholson, the highest ranking CIA officer ever accused of espionage. Turley also served as lead defense counsel in the successful defense of Petty Officer Daniel King, who faced the death penalty for alleged spying for Russia. Turley also served as defense counsel in the case of Dr. Tom Butler, who is faced criminal charges dealing with the importation and handling of thirty vials of plague in Texas. He also served as counsel to Larry Hanauer, the House Intelligence Committee staffer accused of leaking a classified Presidential National Intelligence Estimate to the New York Times. (Hanauer was cleared of all allegations).

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