Last Wednesday was, as predicted, wild. For those of you who have ever been to the Capitol, the idea that a mob could assault it and overrun it never really seemed possible; however, there it was in living color on the screens we were glued to last Wednesday afternoon.
So what will be the fallout?
I think the politics will simply play out as they always do, with posturing, distraction, and distance. I do worry that, as a country, we seem to be moving incrementally away from our democratic ideals. I have some theories on how to fix that. But I don’t want to share them here.
Instead, I have been thinking about how this political craziness is affecting our relationships and our workplaces, and how it is likely to keep folks like me busy.
Unlike past mobs and riots that have happened during our American history, much of this riot was caught on film and posted on social media and other websites. The actual perpetrators of the crimes that occurred are actually readily identifiable.
It goes without saying that insurrection is bad for business. Regardless of your politics, my guess is that folks who do legitimate business do not want even minimal association with the taint of insurrection or wild conspiracy.
Now we all know that, as Americans, we have a First Amendment right to speak freely on matters of public concern. It is the cornerstone of our democracy. But when speech becomes a riot, the protection ceases.
But the First Amendment only prevents the government from taking action against you because of the speech you have used. The First Amendment does not protect you from an employer deciding to fire you because you were dumb enough to film your criminal behavior and post it to the world.
So by Thursday afternoon, stories were already hitting the wires about regional and national employers terminating employees who participated in the riot that occurred on Wednesday. In fact, one of the terminated employees participated in the riot and vandalism of the Capitol while actually wearing his identification badge from his employment.
That probably was not the free advertising the employer was looking for. He was fired by the end of the day.
But, you may ask, what about his right to “protest” and “speak freely.” Ah, yes, he does have those rights. But his employer is not obligated to entertain those rights to its detriment.
In that same vein, a University of Tennessee-Chattanooga assistant football coach was fired last week for posting disparaging commentary about Stacey Abrams. Sure, he has a right to speak freely, but that does not prevent his employer from firing him if that speech puts the employer in a bad light.
I expect that the political battle lines that have been drawn are going to cause a great deal of economic pain for those who choose to use social media forums to express their viewpoints. Where threats or slurs are delivered, or violence is advocated, those doing the posting are going to not only have to face potential criminal culpability, but also the likely loss of employment.
My advice is this: take a breath and sleep on your commentary before hitting send. Decide if you are willing to lose your job over your words. Ask if your opinion is that important. Don’t drink and post. Then, and only then, should you engage with your community about your political ideas.