By Tom Ehrich

House Speaker John Boehner exacts retribution on colleagues who voted against him.

New York police officers basically stop policing in retribution for what they perceive as inadequate support from a liberal Mayor.

Gunmen attack a French newspaper in apparent retribution for its satirical treatment of the Prophet Muhammad.

A thin-skinned Maryland councilman threatens retribution against any journalist who uses his name without permission.

As 2015 opens amid a polar vortex, retribution is in the air. Bullies -- always a thin-skinned breed -- wave guns and lawsuits against their real or imagined enemies.

Will we let ourselves be intimidated? The Maryland newspaper met its threatening foe by immediately running an article filled with his name. New York Mayor DiBlasio and his police commissioner found their spine. Time will tell whether Boehner gets away with his bullying or French assailants with theirs.

Much is at stake. Bullying of critics is the start of a perilous descent into repression. Freedom of the press, which always matters far more than the right to bear arms in preserving democracy, is a fragile bulwark, especially when all three branches of government find a free press inconvenient and try to quash it.

Never is freedom of speech more necessary than when a sizable portion of the populace is so frightened and ideologically insecure that they will sacrifice freedom for safety -- in the end neither deserving nor getting either, as Franklin said.

Those who pursue retribution consider their course not only politically helpful but morally right. That declaration of license is one reason Jesus spoke sternly against retribution. Eye for an eye quickly becomes many eyes for many eyes, and an endless cycle of retaliation occurs.

It takes a civilized society and wise leaders to pursue politics without retribution. "My way or the highway" is the battle cry of ignorance.

Comment