The angry left-handed broom of America’s cultural revolution uses fear to sweep through our civic, corporate and personal life.
It brings with it attempted intimidation, shame and the usual demands for ceremonies of public groveling.
It is happening in newsrooms in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. And now it’s coming for me, in an attempt to shame me into silence.
Here’s what happened:
Last week, with violence spiking around the country, I wrote a column on the growing sense of lawlessness in America’s urban areas.
In response, the Tribune newspaper union, the Chicago Tribune Guild, which I have repeatedly and politely declined to join, wrote an open letter to management defaming me, by falsely accusing me of religious bigotry and fomenting conspiracy theories.
Newspaper management has decided not to engage publicly with the union. So I will.
For right now, let’s deal with facts. My July 22 column was titled “Something grows in the big cities run by Democrats: An overwhelming sense of lawlessness.”
It explored the connections between soft-on-crime prosecutors and increases in violence along with the political donations of left-wing billionaire George Soros, who in several states has funded liberal candidates for prosecutor, including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
Soros’ influence on these races is undeniable and has been widely reported. But in that column, I did not mention Soros’ ethnicity or religion.
You’d think that before wildly accusing someone of fomenting bigoted conspiracy theories, journalists on the union’s executive board would at least take the time to Google the words “Soros,” “funding” and “local prosecutors.”
In August 2016, Politico outlined Soros’ money supporting local DA races and included the view from opponents and skeptics that if successful, these candidates would make communities “less safe.”
From the Wall Street Journal in November 2016: “Mr. Soros, a major backer of liberal causes, has contributed at least $3.8 million to political action committees supporting candidates for district attorney in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin, according to campaign filings.”
The Huffington Post in May 2018 wrote about contributions from Soros and Super PACs to local prosecutor candidates who were less law-and-order than their opponents.
So, it seems that the general attitude in journalism is that super PACs and dark money are bad, unless of course, they’re operated by wealthy billionaires of the left. Then they’re praised and courted.
All of this is against the backdrop of an America divided into camps, between those who think they can freely speak their minds and those who know they can’t.
Most people subjected to cancel culture don’t have a voice. They’re afraid. They have no platform. When they’re shouted down, they’re expected to grovel. After the groveling, comes social isolation. Then they are swept away.
But I have a newspaper column.
As a columnist and political reporter, I have given some 35 years of my life to the Chicago Tribune, even more if you count my time as an eager Tribune copy boy. And over this time, readers know that I have shown respect to my profession, to colleagues and to this newspaper.
Agree with me or not — and isn’t that the point of a newspaper column? — I owe readers a clear statement of what I will do and not do:
I will not apologize for writing about Soros.
I will not bow to those who’ve wrongly defamed me.
I will continue writing my column.
The left doesn’t like my politics. I get that. I don’t like theirs much, either. But those who follow me on social media know that I do not personally criticize my colleagues for their politics. I try to elevate their fine work. And I tell disgruntled readers who don’t like my colleagues’ politics that “it takes a village.”
Here’s what I’ve learned over my life in and around Chicago, what my immigrant family taught us in our two-flats on South Peoria Street:
We come into this world alone and we leave alone. And the most important thing we leave behind isn’t money.
The most important thing we leave is our name.
We leave that to our children.
And I will not soil my name by groveling to anyone in this or any other newsroom.
The larger question is not about me, or the political left that hopes to silence people like me, but about America and its young. Those of us targeted by cancel culture are not only victims. We are examples, as French revolutionaries once said, in order to encourage the others.
Human beings do not wish to see themselves as cowards. They want to see themselves as heroes.
And, as they are shaped and taught to fear even the slightest accusation of thought crime, they will not view themselves as weak for falling in line. Instead they will view themselves as virtuous. And that is the sin of it.
Those who do not behave will be marginalized. But those who self-censor will be praised.
Yet what of our American tradition of freely speaking our minds?
That too, is swept away.
Tag: First Amendment
A new Cato national survey finds that self‐censorship is on the rise in the United States. Nearly two-thirds—62%—of Americans say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. The share of Americans who self‐censor has risen several points since 2017 when 58% of Americans agreed with this statement.
These fears cross partisan lines. Majorities of Democrats (52%), independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share.
Liberals Are Divided on Political Expression
Strong liberals stand out, however, as the only political group who feel they can express themselves. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) of staunch liberals feel they can say what they believe. However, centrist liberals feel differently. A slim majority (52%) of liberals feel they have to self‐censor, as do 64% of moderates, and 77% of conservatives. This demonstrates that political expression is an issue that divides the Democratic coalition between centrist Democrats and their left flank.
What’s changed? In 2017 most centrist liberals felt confident (54%) they could express their views. However today, slightly less than half (48%) feel the same. The share who feel they cannot be open increased 7 points from 45% in 2017 to 52% today. In fact, there have been shifts across the board, where more people among all political groups feel they are walking on eggshells.
Although strong liberals are the only group who feel they can say what they believe, the share who feel pressured to self‐censor rose 12 points from 30% in 2017 to 42% in 2020. The share of moderates who self‐censor increased 7 points from 57% to 64%, and the share of conservatives rose 70% to 77%, also a 7‐point increase. Strong conservatives are the only group with little change. They are about as likely now (77%) to say they hold back their views as in 2017 (76%).
Self‐censorship is widespread across demographic groups as well. Nearly two‐thirds of Latino Americans (65%) and White Americans (64%) and nearly half of African Americans (49%) have political views they are afraid to share. Majorities of men (65%) and women (59%), people with incomes over $100,000 (60%) and people with incomes less than $20,000 (58%), people under 35 (55%) and over 65 (66%), religious (71%) and non‐religious (56%) all agree that the political climate prevents them from expressing their true beliefs.
50% of Strong Liberals Support Firing Trump Donors; 36% of Strong Conservatives Support Firing Biden Donors
The survey found that many Americans think a person’s private political donations should impact their employment. Nearly a quarter (22%) of Americans would support firing a business executive who personally donates to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign. Even more, 31% support firing a business executive who donates to Donald Trump’s re‐election campaign.
Support rises among political subgroups. Support increases to 50% of strong liberals who support firing executives who personally donate to Trump. And more than a third (36%) of strong conservatives support firing an executive for donating to Biden’s presidential campaign.
Young Americans are also more likely than older Americans to support punishing people at work for personal donations to Trump. Forty‐four percent (44%) of Americans under 30 support firing executives if they donate to Trump. This share declines to 22% among those over 55 years old—a 20‐point difference. An age gap also exists for Biden donors, but is less pronounced. Twenty‐seven percent (27%) of Americans under 30 support firing executives who donate to Biden compared to 20% of those over 55—a 7‐point difference.
32% Worry Their Political Views Could Harm Their Employment
Nearly a third (32%) of employed Americans say they personally are worried about missing out on career opportunities or losing their job if their political opinions became known. These results are particularly notable given that most personal campaign contributions to political candidates are public knowledge and can easily be found online.
And it’s not just one side of the political spectrum: 31% of liberals, 30% of moderates and 34% of conservatives are worried their political views could get them fired or harm their career trajectory. This suggests that it’s not necessarily just one particular set of views that has moved outside of acceptable public discourse. Instead these results are more consistent with a “walking on eggshells” thesis that people increasingly fear a wide range of political views could offend others or could negatively impact themselves.
These concerns are also cross‐partisan, although more Republicans are worried: 28% of Democrats, 31% of independents, and 38% of Republicans are worried about how their political opinions could impact their career trajectories.
Americans with diverse backgrounds share this concern that their employment could be adversely affected if their political views were discovered: 38% of Hispanic Americans, 22% of African Americans, 31% of White Americans, 35% of men, 27% of women, 36% of households earning less than $20,000 a year, and 33% of households earning more than $100,000 a year agree.
Some are more worried about losing their jobs or missing out on job opportunities because of political views. Those with the highest levels of education are most concerned. Almost half (44%) of Americans with post‐graduate degrees say they are worried their careers could be harmed if others discovered their political opinions, compared to 34% of college graduates, 28% of those with some college experience, and 25% of high school graduates.
But this educational divide appears largely driven by partisanship. Democrats with graduate degrees (25%) are about as likely as high school graduates (23%) to be worried their political views could harm their employment. However, a major shift occurs among Republicans who attend college and graduate school. About a quarter of Republicans with high school degrees (27%) or some college (26%) worry their political opinions could harm them at work—but this number increases to 40% among Republican college graduates and 60% of those with post‐graduate degrees. A similar trend is observed among independents. The share of independents who have these concerns increases from 18% among high school graduates, to 35% among those with some college, 41% of college graduates, and 49% of post‐graduates.
Younger people are also more concerned than older people, irrespective of political viewpoint. Examining all Americans under 65, 37% of those under 30 are worried their political opinions could harm their career trajectories, compared to 30% of 30–54 year‐olds and 24% of 55–64 year‐olds. But the age gap is more striking taking into account political views. A slim majority (51%) of Republicans under 30 fear their views could harm their career prospects compared to 39% of 30–44 year‐olds, 34% of 45–54 year‐olds, and 28% of 55–64 year‐old Republicans. Democrats reflect a similar but less pronounced pattern. A third (33%) of Democrats under 30 worry they have views that could harm their current and future jobs, compared to 27% of 30–54 year‐olds, and 19% of 55–64 year‐old Democrats.
These data suggest that a significant minority of Americans from all political persuasions and backgrounds—particularly younger people who have spent more time in America’s universities—are most likely to hide their views for fear of financial penalty.
A particularly surprising finding was that Americans who have these concerns are somewhat more likely to support the firing of Biden or Trump donors. A third (33%) among those who worry that their political views could harm their employment supported firing either Biden or Trump donors, compared to 24% of those who were not worried about their views impacting their jobs. This suggests that those who fear reprisal or economic penalty for their political views are not entirely distinct from those who seek the same for others.
Taking these results together indicates that a significant majority of Americans with diverse political views and backgrounds self‐censor their political opinions. This large number from across demographic groups suggests withheld opinions may not simply be radical or fringe perspectives in the process of being socially marginalized. Instead many of these opinions may be shared by a large number of people. Opinions so widely shared are likely shaping how people think about salient policy issues and ultimately impacting how they vote. But if people feel they cannot discuss these important policy matters, such views will not have an opportunity to be scrutinized, understood, or reformed.
Nothing evokes a nice gloomy feel like the German language. The Germans, a people forged under the gray skies and dark shadows of the Black Forest, are a gloomy people, which is why they have such wonderful words to describe gloomy things.
(For instance, there’s schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. And fremdschamen, the feeling of being embarrassed for someone else who doesn’t have the good sense of being embarrassed for themselves (think of that feeling you get watching Michael Scott humiliate himself in The Office, or President Trump answering a question from Sean Hannity. See below). And there’s my favorite: futterneid—that feeling of jealousy you get when someone is eating something you want to eat. When I go out to dinner with my wife and she orders better than me, my futterneid fuels the Fair Jessica’s schadenfreude.)
So let’s consider the word Einfühlungsvermögen.
Einfühlungsvermögen means “empathy.” And that English word is just over a century old. It entered the English language in 1909 as a translation of Einfühlungsvermögen. It’s an adaptation of the shorter term Einfühlung, a concept pioneered by the German historicist Johann Herder, one of the founders of German nationalism. Einfühlung literally means “feeling one’s way in.” And it was one of the core concepts of the German historicist school, which is responsible for many bad ideas we won’t discuss here.
But Einfühlung, in isolation, is not a bad idea. What Herder meant by “feeling one’s way in” was that for a historian to understand a particular society, one must grasp on both an intellectual and emotional level the cultural currents of the time. One cannot just look from outside the fishbowl using the scorecards of the moment and judge a society from some modern, abstract, standard. You must dive in and understand people and cultures on their own terms first. This is something the best historians do. They make the reader feel like they understand why people did the things they did without the benefit of knowing how events turned out.
For example, when people condemn the Founders for keeping slavery intact in slave states, they tend to ignore the context the Founders were living in. The choice they faced wasn’t a Constitution with slavery or a Constitution without it. The choice was a Constitution with slavery—or no Constitution at all.
I’m open to arguments that this isn’t true, but not from someone who doesn’t understand that this is the way the Founders—many of whom opposed slavery—understood their choice.
Societies are complex things: Most of the rules that govern them cannot be found in legal texts. These rules are embedded in customs, norms, traditions, and manners that are as often as not unwritten—and even when they are written, most people don’t refer to those texts for guidance. Most of us know not to talk with our mouths full because our parents taught us basic manners, not because we read some Dear Abby column.
A certain kind of modern feminist looks at a stereotypical housewife of, say, the 1920s and feels a kind of contempt or pity for her plight, but not empathy. I understand the feeling. But to understand the housewife you need to understand that she didn’t necessarily share your attitudes about what constitutes a meaningful and rewarding life. Condemning her for falling short of standards she did not hold can be a kind of bigotry.
One thing I find remarkable is that many progressives understand all of this quite intuitively when it comes to other countries. Many of the same people who have contempt for the 1920 housewife will comment about a 2020 housewife in, say, Gaza, “Who are you to judge them? It’s their culture!”
Well, the past is another country, too. And given that the American past is part of your own country, maybe you can have just a bit more Einfühlungsvermögen for it.
Anyway, what got me thinking about all this was something I tweeted about last night.
Jonah Goldberg @JonahDispatch
There is something really horrible, evil even, about going back in time and reminding people of a totally public incident that merited no criticism at the time, and declare it a “scandal” that should threaten someone’s livelihood. https://t.co/hDEKlABvZE
South Florida Sun Sentinel @SunSentinel
What particularly annoyed me is the use of the word “scandal.” A scandal is “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” The actions by Tina Fey and Jimmy Kimmel were not scandals when they happened. They were comedy bits on television that went, to my knowledge, unremarked upon at the time. If unremarkable events of the past—not secret events, not unknown events, but simply run-of-the-mill events of daily life—can retroactively be turned into scandals by a mob of moral scolds, we’re in store for some rough times.
Think of it this way, men dressing as women for comedic effect is a very old staple. Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Flip Wilson, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx: The list goes on and on. It is not unimaginable, given the role of transgenderism in our culture today, that in the years—or days—ahead, we’ll have a similar moral panic over dressing in drag (at least by cis-men) and be told that this is—and was—some kind of hate crime. Will Dustin Hoffman ask AFI to take Tootsie off its 100 best films list? Will Tom Hanks get embroiled in a “scandal” because someone dug up an old VHS of Bosom Buddies? Will Mrs. Doubtfire go the way of Gone with the Wind or Birth of a Nation? And don’t get me started on the intersectional chimera that is White Chicks.
It’s one thing to say, “We should stop doing X.” It’s quite another to say the people who did X when X was entirely normal are now pariahs.
There is something vaguely Maoist about the mood out there. During the Cultural Revolution the young firebrands attacked and humiliated older Communist leaders for the sin of not being sufficiently imbued with the spirit of revolution, or something. The “Black Line” theory of artistic interpretation—which led to the deaths and imprisonment of countless artists and intellectuals —basically held that if you once wrote or painted something “wrong” by the current revolutionary standard, you should be forcibly reeducated, even though what you wrote or painted wasn’t wrong when you painted it.
In 1789, America’s Founding Fathers, acutely aware of the political bloodbaths that had consumed Europe for centuries, created a system in which disagreements would be arbitrated by periodically allowing the public to turn their opinions into votes. The majority would win the election. Then, because political disagreement never ends, you hold more elections. Aware of the natural tendency of factions and majorities to want to suppress opposition opinion, the Founders created a Bill of Rights for all citizens, including what they called, with unmistakable clarity, “the freedom of speech.”
Nothing lasts forever, and so it is today in the U.S., where the pre-liberal idea of settling disagreements with coercion has made a comeback.
In the past week, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the editors of Bon Appétit magazine and the young women’s website Refinery 29 have been forced out by the staff and owners of their publications for offenses regarded as at odds with the beliefs of the current protests.
It is impossible not to recognize the irony of these events. The silencers aren’t campus protesters but professional journalists, a class of American workers who for nearly 250 years have had a constitutionally protected and court-enforced ability to say just about anything they want. Historically, people have been attracted to American journalism because it was the freest imaginable place to work for determined, often quirky individualists. Suddenly, it looks like the opposite of that.
The idea that you could actually lose your job, as the Inquirer’s editor did, because of a headline on an opinion piece that said “Buildings Matter, Too” is something to ponder. It sounds like a made-up incident that one might expect in a work of political satire, such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”
The issue here is not about the assertion that racism is endemic in the U.S. The issue is the willingness by many to displace the American system of free argument with a system of enforced, coerced opinion and censorship, which forces comparison to the opinion-control mechanisms that existed in Eastern Europe during the Cold War.
In 2006, the movie “The Lives of Others” dramatized how the Stasi, the omnipresent East German surveillance apparatus, pursued a nonconforming writer, whose friends were intimidated into abandoning him. To survive this kind of enforced thought-concurrence in the Soviet Union or Communist Eastern Europe, writers resorted to circulating their uncensored ideas as underground literature called samizdat. Others conveyed their ideas as political satire. In Vaclav Havel’s 1965 play, “The Memorandum,” a Czech office worker is demoted to “staff watcher,” whose job is to monitor his colleagues. You won’t see Havel’s anticensorship plays staged in the U.S. anytime soon.
Other writers during those years of thought suppression sometimes wrote in allegory or fables. In Russia, writers called it “Aesopian language.” We’re not there yet. Instead many writers and media personalities here have chosen to participate in keeping opinion and even vocabulary inside restricted limits.
Some will object that it is preposterous to liken them to a communist party. But social media has become a partylike phenomenon of ideological and psychological reinforcement. It avoids the poor public optics of China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, when dissidents were paraded in dunce caps. Today, endlessly repeated memes on social-media platforms, such as “silence is violence,” reduce independent thought to constant rote reminders. Instead of the Stasi, we have Twitter’s censors to keep track of dissidents.
Alarmed parents saw years ago that platforms such as Facebook were being used to humiliate and ostracize teenage girls. It is disingenuous to deny that this same machinery of shaming has been expanded to coerce political conformity.
It is also disingenuous to deny that this ethos sanctions the implicit threat of being fired from one’s job as the price for falling out of line just once. It’s beginning to look like nonlethal summary execution.
The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse argued in 1965 that some ideas were so repugnant, which he identified as “from the Right,” that it was one’s obligation to suppress them with what he called “the withdrawal of tolerance.” Marcuse is a saint on the American left.
The ingeniousness of this strategy of suppression and shaming is that it sidesteps the Supreme Court’s long history of defending opinion that is unpopular, such as its 1977 decision that vindicated the free-speech rights of neo-Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie, Ill. But if people have shut themselves up, as they are doing now, there is no speech, and so there is “no problem.”
Free speech isn’t dead in the United States, but it looks like more than ever, it requires active defense.
Earlier this week, Atlantic magazine – fast becoming the favored media outlet for self-styled intellectual elites of the Aspen Institute type – ran an in-depth article of the problems free speech pose to American society in the coronavirus era. The headline:
Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal
In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.
Authored by a pair of law professors from Harvard and the University of Arizona, Jack Goldsmith and Andrew Keane Woods, the piece argued that the American and Chinese approaches to monitoring the Internet were already not that dissimilar:
Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices… But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.
They went on to list all the reasons that, given that we’re already on an “inexorable” path to censorship, a Chinese-style system of speech control may not be such a bad thing. In fact, they argued, a benefit of the coronavirus was that it was waking us up to “how technical wizardry, data centralization, and private-public collaboration can do enormous public good.”
Perhaps, they posited, Americans could be moved to reconsider their “understanding” of the First and Fourth Amendments, as “the harms from digital speech” continue to grow, and “the social costs of a relatively open Internet multiply.”
This interesting take on the First Amendment was the latest in a line of “Let’s rethink that whole democracy thing” pieces that began sprouting up in earnest four years ago. Articles with headlines like “Democracies end when they become too democratic” and “Too much of a good thing: why we need less democracy” became common after two events in particular: Donald Trump’s victory in the the Republican primary race, and the decision by British voters to opt out of the EU, i.e. “Brexit.”
A consistent lament in these pieces was the widespread decline in respect for “experts” among the ignorant masses, better known as the people Trump was talking about when he gushed in February 2016, “I love the poorly educated!”
The Atlantic was at the forefront of the argument that The People is a Great Beast, that cannot be trusted to play responsibly with the toys of freedom. A 2016 piece called “American politics has gone insane” pushed a return of the “smoke-filled room” to help save voters from themselves. Author Jonathan Rauch employed a metaphor that is striking in retrospect, describing America’s oft-vilified intellectual and political elite as society’s immune system:
Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.
The new piece by Goldsmith and Woods says we’re there, made literally sick by our refusal to accept the wisdom of experts. The time for asking the (again, literally) unwashed to listen harder to their betters is over. The Chinese system offers a way out. When it comes to speech, don’t ask: tell.
The offenders were Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massahi, co-owners of an “Urgent Care” clinic in Bakersfield, California. They’d held a presentation in which they argued that widespread lockdowns were perhaps not necessary, according to data they were collecting and analyzing.
“Millions of cases, small amounts of deaths,” said Erickson, a vigorous, cheery-looking Norwegian-American who argued the numbers showed Covid-19 was similar to flu in mortality rate. “Does [that] necessitate shutdown, loss of jobs, destruction of oil companies, furloughing doctors…? I think the answer is going to be increasingly clear.”
The reaction of the medical community was severe. It was pointed out that the two men owned a clinic that was losing business thanks to the lockdown. The message boards of real E.R. doctors lit up with angry comments, scoffing at the doctors’ dubious data collection methods and even their somewhat dramatic choice to dress in scrubs for their video presentation.
The American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM) and American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) scrambled to issue a joint statement to “emphatically condemn” the two doctors, who “do not speak for medical society” and had released “biased, non-peer reviewed data to advance their personal financial interests.”
As is now almost automatically the case in the media treatment of any controversy, the story was immediately packaged for “left” and “right” audiences by TV networks. Tucker Carlson on Fox backed up the doctors’ claims, saying “these are serious people who’ve done this for a living for decades,” and YouTube and Google have “officially banned dissent.”
Meanwhile, over on Carlson’s opposite-number channel, MSNBC, anchor Chris Hayes of the All In program reacted with fury to Carlson’s monologue:
There’s a concerted effort on the part of influential people at the network that we at All In call Trump TV right now to peddle dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus… Call it coronavirus trutherism.
Hayes, an old acquaintance of mine, seethed at what he characterized as the gross indifference of Trump Republicans to the dangers of coronavirus. “At the beginning of this horrible period, the president, along with his lackeys, and propagandists, they all minimized what was coming,” he said, sneering. “They said it was just like a cold or the flu.”
He angrily demanded that if Fox acolytes like Carlson believed so strongly that society should be reopened, they should go work in a meat processing plant. “Get in there if you think it’s that bad. Go chop up some pork.”
The tone of the many media reactions to Erickson, Carlson, Trump, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, and others who’ve suggested lockdowns and strict shelter-in-place laws are either unnecessary or do more harm than good, fits with what writer Thomas Frank describes as a new “Utopia of Scolding”:
Who needs to win elections when you can personally reestablish the social order every day on Twitter and Facebook? When you can scold, and scold, and scold. That’s their future, and it’s a satisfying one: a finger wagging in some vulgar proletarian’s face, forever.
In the Trump years the sector of society we used to describe as liberal America became a giant finger-wagging machine. The news media, academia, the Democratic Party, show-business celebrities and masses of blue-checked Twitter virtuosos became a kind of umbrella agreement society, united by loathing of Trump and fury toward anyone who dissented with their preoccupations.
Because this Conventional Wisdom viewed itself as being solely concerned with the Only Important Thing, i.e. removing Trump, there was no longer any legitimate excuse for disagreeing with its takes on Russia, Julian Assange, Jill Stein, Joe Rogan, the 25th amendment, Ukraine, the use of the word “treason,” the removal of Alex Jones, the movie Joker, or whatever else happened to be the #Resistance fixation of the day.
When the Covid-19 crisis struck, the scolding utopia was no longer abstraction. The dream was reality! Pure communism had arrived! Failure to take elite advice was no longer just a deplorable faux pas. Not heeding experts was now murder. It could not be tolerated. Media coverage quickly became a single, floridly-written tirade against “expertise-deniers.” For instance, the Atlantic headline on Kemp’s decision to end some shutdowns was, “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice.”
At the outset of the crisis, America’s biggest internet platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and Reddit – took an unprecedented step to combat “fraud and misinformation” by promising extensive cooperation in elevating “authoritative” news over less reputable sources.
H.L. Mencken once said that in America, “the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head.”
We have a lot of dumb people in this country. But the difference between the stupidities cherished by the Idiocracy set ingesting fish cleaner, and the ones pushed in places like the Atlantic, is that the jackasses among the “expert” class compound their wrongness by being so sure of themselves that they force others to go along. In other words, to combat “ignorance,” the scolders create a new and more virulent species of it: exclusive ignorance, forced ignorance, ignorance with staying power.
The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous and more stupid by leaps and bounds than a president who tells people to inject disinfectant. It’s astonishing that they don’t see thisJournalists are professional test-crammers. Our job is to get an assignment on Monday morning and by Tuesday evening act like we’re authorities on intellectual piracy, the civil war in Yemen, Iowa caucus procedure, the coronavirus, whatever. We actually know jack: we speed-read, make a few phone calls, and in a snap people are inviting us on television to tell millions of people what to think about the complex issues of the world.
When we come to a subject cold, the job is about consulting as many people who really know their stuff as quickly as possible and sussing out – often based on nothing more than hunches or impressions of the personalities involved – which set of explanations is most believable. Sportswriters who covered the Deflategate football scandal had to do this in order to explain the Ideal Gas Law, I had to do it to cover the subprime mortgage scandal, and reporters this past January and February had to do it when assigned to assess the coming coronavirus threat.
It does not take that much work to go back and find that a significant portion of the medical and epidemiological establishment called this disaster wrong when they were polled by reporters back in the beginning of the year. Right-wingers are having a blast collecting the headlines, and they should, given the chest-pounding at places like MSNBC about others who “minimized the risk.” Here’s a brief sample:
Here’s my personal favorite, from Wired on January 29:
There are dozens of these stories and they nearly all contain the same elements, including an inevitable quote or series of quotes from experts telling us to calm the hell down. This is from the Time piece:
“Good hand-washing helps. Staying healthy and eating healthy will also help,” says Dr. Sharon Nachman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at New York’s Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “The things we take for granted actually do work. It doesn’t matter what the virus is. The routine things work.”
There’s a reason why journalists should always keep their distance from priesthoods in any field. It’s particularly in the nature of insular communities of subject matter experts to coalesce around orthodoxies that blind the very people in the loop who should be the most knowledgeable.
“Experts” get things wrong for reasons that are innocent (they’ve all been taught the same incorrect thing in school) and less so (they have a financial or professional interest in denying the truth).
On the less nefarious side, the entire community of pollsters in 2016 denounced as infamous the idea that Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination, let alone the general election. They believed that because they weren’t paying attention to voters (their ostensible jobs), but also because they’d never seen anything similar. In a more suspicious example, if you asked a hundred Wall Street analysts in September 2008 what caused the financial crisis, probably no more than a handful would have mentioned fraud or malfeasance.
Both of the above examples point out a central problem with trying to automate the fact-checking process the way the Internet platforms have of late, with their emphasis on “authoritative” opinions.
“Authorities” by their nature are untrustworthy. Sometimes they have an interest in denying truths, and sometimes they actually try to define truth as being whatever they say it is. “Elevating authoritative content” over independent or less well-known sources is an algorithmic take on the journalistic obsession with credentialing that has been slowly destroying our business for decades.
The WMD fiasco happened because journalists listened to people with military ranks and titles instead of demanding evidence and listening to their own instincts. The same thing happened with Russiagate, a story fueled by intelligence “experts” with grand titles who are now proven to have been wrong to a spectacular degree, if not actually criminally liable in pushing a fraud.
We’ve become incapable of talking calmly about possible solutions because we’ve lost the ability to decouple scientific or policy discussions, or simple issues of fact, from a political argument. Reporting on the Covid-19 crisis has become the latest in a line of moral manias with Donald Trump in the middle.
Instead of asking calmly if hydroxychloroquine works, or if the less restrictive Swedish crisis response has merit, or questioning why certain statistical assumptions about the seriousness of the crisis might have been off, we’re denouncing the questions themselves as infamous. Or we’re politicizing the framing of stories in a way that signals to readers what their take should be before they even digest the material. “Conservative Americans see coronavirus hope in Progressive Sweden,” reads a Politico headline, as if only conservatives should feel optimism in the possibility that a non-lockdown approach might have merit! Are we rooting for such an approach to not work?
From everything I’ve heard, talking to doctors and reading the background material, the Bakersfield doctors are probably not the best sources. But the functional impact of removing their videos (in addition to giving them press they wouldn’t otherwise have had) is to stamp out discussion of things that do actually need to be discussed, like when the damage to the economy and the effects of other crisis-related problems – domestic abuse, substance abuse, suicide, stroke, abuse of children, etc. – become as significant a threat to the public as the pandemic. We do actually have to talk about this. We can’t not talk about it out of fear of being censored, or because we’re confusing real harm with political harm.
Turning ourselves into China for any reason is the definition of a cure being worse than the disease. The scolders who are being seduced by such thinking have to wake up, before we end up adding another disaster on top of the terrible one we’re already facing.
Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in Richmond ahead of a rally Monday that is expected to bring thousands of gun rights activists to Richmond.
The state of emergency will be enforced Friday evening to Tuesday evening. It includes a firearms ban on Capitol Square, as well as a general ban on weapons that includes bats and knives.
Northam cited safety threats “similar to what has been seen before other major events such as Charlottesville,” a reference to the deadly Unite the Right rally in August 2017.
“These are considered credible, serious threats by our law enforcement agencies,” Northam said, citing claims that groups plan on “storming our Capitol” and “weaponizing drones over our Capitol.”
Monday’s rally is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which says it is expecting between 30,000 and 50,000 people to arrive on the steps of the Capitol to protest gun control legislature proposed by Democratic lawmakers.
In an email to rally participants sent Tuesday, VCDL encouraged a peaceful demonstration. It told protestors planning to go inside legislative buildings to leave their guns at home or in their hotels. But, it also encouraged unarmed protestors to travel with an armed “designated defender” that will wait outside the buildings for them. It’s unclear how the group might update its directive following Northam’s announcement.
“We cannot stress enough that this is a peaceful day to address our legislature,” Tuesday’s email reads. “The eyes of the nation and the world are on Virginia and VCDL right now and we must show them that gun owners are not the problem. Lead by example.”
By violating the First and Second Amendment rights of those opposed to Northam’s unconstitutional gun-banning efforts, Northam is certainly leading by example … the example of a coward.
Because our country is so deeply split and so distrustful of its basic institutions, it needs solid, dispassionate reporting now more than ever. We are not getting it.
Americans know this, and we’re angry about it. Polls show we don’t trust the media any more than we trust Congress, the president, universities, or big business. And we don’t trust them at all. That’s deeply troubling since those institutions should be the secure foundations of our public life. Only one is still trusted by more than half the population — the military. Our men and women in uniform certainly deserve our trust and respect, but it’s grim news for a democracy when only the armed forces merit it.
The media has added to this sulfurous climate of distrust and division. Take the country’s most important newspaper, the New York Times. After badly misjudging voter sentiment during the 2016 election, the Times publicly promised to reevaluate its biases, take occasional trips across the Hudson, and try harder. That lasted about a week.
The Times soon joined every other media organization in the race to discredit Donald Trump’s election, imply it was the product of Russian interference, and paint him as an illegitimate intruder in the White House. Although they were right to investigate Russian interference, they were wrong to pump up a thinly based conspiracy story that served their political aims.
Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation showed the Russians did interfere, primarily to create chaos and assist Trump. The special prosecutor documented multiple Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, a troubling revelation for any fair-minded American. But the report did not show any impact on the election outcome or charge any Americans with aiding the Russians. Asked point-blank if the president had not been charged because he was in office, Mueller mumbled a befuddled answer (like much of his testimony) and eventually said “no.”
Mueller’s report left gaping holes. It made no effort to find out why the CIA and FBI began investigating Trump and his campaign in the first place, whether that was warranted, why a counterintelligence investigation became a criminal one, or why candidate Trump was never warned about Russia’s malicious efforts. The report never addressed whether James Comey’s FBI was secretly targeting Trump for partisan or illicit purposes or how it justified this unprecedented action. Ultimately, Mueller’s report was a dud, and his testimony a disappointment for those alleging a vast, treasonous conspiracy.
Did the proprietors of the Fourth Estate learn their lesson? No, siree. Like all true believers who have been thwarted, they have redoubled their efforts, reinforcing the impeachment drive by House Democrats. Even as Trump wrongly smears all news as “fake,” damaging our country (as well as his targets), those newspapers, online outlets, and cable channels are doing their best to prove him right. They have embraced their new role as active partisans, while still denying it. Who trusts their denials?
This media sinkhole was exposed once again after U.S. forces launched a daring raid that killed ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Washington Post beclowned itself with a headline, since changed, that depicted the murderous terrorist and serial rapist as “an austere religious scholar.” The Twitter universe responded with parodies. Bonnie and Clyde were called “wealth re-distributors in the banking sector,” John Wilkes Booth “a noted thespian and member of a prominent theatrical family.” My favorite is Osama bin Laden, who was “killed in a home invasion.” Note that all of them are true, just as the Washington Post’s headline was. They are funny because, like the Post headline, they miss the point so egregiously.
How did CNN do? Not well, but thanks for asking. At 3 p.m. Eastern time, when I tuned in, the news channel’s editors had decided that al-Baghdadi’s death was not the top story. The day after the raid. Really? They led with two minor pieces, neither of them urgent, and then took a commercial break. Afterward, CNN turned to the al-Baghdadi story, but its main point was that it was far less important than killing Osama bin Laden. I agree, but what was troubling was how CNN essentially stage-whispered to its viewers, “Trust us, this story is not that important and certainly cannot compare with President Obama’s achievement.”
Burying important stories is as significant as misreporting them. Over the next few weeks, we will learn about a huge one the mainstream media has buried in a shallow grave for nearly three years. It deals with surveillance on members of the Trump campaign, based on warrants the FBI and Department of Justice gained from a secret court charged with counterintelligence investigations. DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz will report on his extensive probe of those FISA warrants and whether top FBI and DoJ officials committed fraud on the courts in obtaining them. We may learn who leaked classified materials, a crime we know happened repeatedly in 2016 and early 2017. We may learn about massive, illegal access to intelligence databases by outside contractors, who were spying on Americans without court permission. Expect criminal referrals. Expect indictments on related matters being investigated by U.S. Attorney John Durham, a highly respected, non-partisan professional. Did the CIA, which cannot spy on Americans, simply outsource the task to foreign counterparts? This is likely to be big and ugly.
Our country’s leading news organizations have done almost nothing to investigate these issues and far too little to report on them. When they do report, they editorialize to downplay them. If the worst allegations turn out to be true — and we simply don’t know yet — they will have missed the biggest story since Watergate. Worst of all, they will have missed it deliberately because they feared any investigation might aid a president they hated. That position should be reserved for the editorial pages. In the news sections, such distortion and willful blindness is an abdication of journalists’ responsibilities. Democracy dies in that kind of derangement.
Speaking of deranged, Nick Gillespie reports a different form of derangement:
If you need more proof that free expression is under serious and sustained attack, look no further than The Washington Post, that legendary and often self-congratulatory bastion of First Amendment support, which has just published an op-ed calling for hate speech laws because “on the Internet, truth is not optimized. On the Web, it’s not enough to battle falsehood with truth; the truth doesn’t always win.”
What’s even more disheartening is that the author is Richard Stengel, a former managing editor of Time, chairman of the National Constitution Center, and Obama-era State Department official whose soul-searching apparently began when challenged by diplomats from a part of the world notorious for particularly brutal forms of censorship. As a journalist, Stengel avers, he loved, loved, loved the First Amendment and its commitment to free speech. But then he got stumped by unnamed representatives of unnamed governments who asked banal questions:
Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that?
Is he kidding? “Why would a country founded in large part on the Enlightenment values of free speech and religious freedom allow free speech and religious freedom?” doesn’t seem like a tough question to answer. He doesn’t name the countries his “most sophisticated Arab diplomats represented, so we need to fill that detail in. Let’s assume they were from Saudi Arabia, a country completely unworthy of emulation when it comes to respecting basic human rights and whose Prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken responsibility for the brutal torture and murder of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. We allow the burning of the Koran for the same reasons we allow the burning of King James and St. Jerome Bibles, the desecration of the U.S. flag, and the potential libeling of elected officials: We believe that individuals have rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With a few exceptions such as “fighting words,” “true threats,” and obscenity, we know that it’s better to allow more speech rather than less. Surprisingly, people get along better when they can more freely speak their minds. The search for “truth”—or at least consensus—benefits from free expression, too, as ideas and attitudes are subjected to examination from friends and foes alike. But the pragmatic answer is ultimately secondary to the expressive one: We allow free speech because no one, certainly not the government, has a right to curtail it.
As befits a man who helmed a legacy media outlet that is slowly being reduced to rubble like a statue of Ozymandias in the desert, Stengel is particularly distraught over “the Internet” and the “Web.” He implies that the “marketplace of ideas” worked well enough when John Milton and, a bit later, America’s founders pushed an unregulated press, but, well, times have changed.
On the Internet, truth is not optimized. On the Web, it’s not enough to battle falsehood with truth; the truth doesn’t always win. In the age of social media, the marketplace model doesn’t work. A 2016 Stanford study showed that 82 percent of middle schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and an actual news story. Only a quarter of high school students could tell the difference between an actual verified news site and one from a deceptive account designed to look like a real one.
If you’re basing the erosion of constitutional rights on the reading comprehension skills of middle schoolers, you’re doing it wrong. And by it, I mean journalism, constitutional analysis, politics, and just about everything else, too.
Stengel pivots from discussing truth in media to “hate speech,” a ridiculously expansive term he never defines with precision (he even writes, “there’s no agreed-upon definition of what hate speech actually is”). But because mass shooters such as Dylann Roof, Omar Mateen, and the El Paso shooter “were consumers of hate speech,” it’s time to chuck out hard-fought victories that allow individuals and groups to express themselves in words and pictures. Hate speech, laments Stengel, doesn’t just cause violence (though strangely, violence is declining even as social media is flourishing), it also
A quick reading of the First Amendment would have reminded Stengel—the former chairman and CEO of the National Constitution Center, fer chrissakes!—that the First Amendment isn’t about limiting speech that bothers the sensibilities of people. It’s actually all about Congress not making laws that would create an official religion or restricting individual speech and freedom of the press; it also guarantees that we have the right of assembly and petition. The values it reflects involve pluralism and tolerance, not shutting down, regulating, or restricting speech that makers of “new guardrails” find offensive, annoying, or inconvenient.
If you grew up any time in the past 60 years or so, you’ve taken freedom of speech for granted. That’s due to a series of legal rulings that struck down the ability of elected officials to strangle speech they didn’t like, ranging from potentially libelous personal attacks to once-banned literary works as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Howl, and Ulysses, along with materials such as the Pentagon Papers and the rise of technology that made producing and consuming all sorts of texts, images, music, video, and other forms of creative expression vastly easier.
It’s incredibly dispiriting to see baby boomers like Stengel brush aside the incredible wins in free expression because of concerns about vaguely defined terms such as “hate speech.” He gives off a strong whiff of internet and Cold War paranoia—”Russian agents assumed fake identities, promulgated false narratives and spread lies on Twitter and Facebook, all protected by the First Amendment”—that seems widely shared by his generational peers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) is an increasingly strong presidential candidate who has vowed to regulate explicitly political speech, especially its online iterations …
Older boomers are syncing with millennials and younger Americans, who show a strong predilection to limiting “bad” speech (a 2015 Pew survey found 40 percent of millennials supported censoring “offensive statements about minorities”). These are not good developments, and neither is an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for an effective revocation of the First Amendment. Throw in bipartisan interest in regulating social media platforms as public utilities, the president’s interest in “opening up” the libel laws so he can more easily sue his critics, the rise of “cancel culture,” and we’re one Zippo lighter short of a good, old-fashioned book burning.
This is, according to the News Media Alliance, Free Speech Week.
(Which I found out too late to include that in the newspaper this week. Media companies and organizations are notorious for bad internal communication.)
David Chavern wrote last year:
Do you remember what it was like to not be able to get the answer to an elusive question as soon as you asked it? Like how long sea turtles live? Or how far away is the sun? Or the name of that actor from that one movie? Before the omni-present Google and smartphone, these answers were likely missing (or required a lot of work to find). So when these questions came up in the past, conversation would stop.
That’s because the language of America is our common understanding of the facts of the world. Knowledge is a type of social currency, allowing us to converse and tackle the problems we collectively face. Without it, no democratic system can continue to function.
These common understandings tie us together. They allow us to communicate effectively and work together. When they are absent or under stress, like they are at this moment in society, it may sometimes feel like we will never recover that common language. But journalists are out there every day on the front lines to uncover the facts and understandings that will allow us to find our way back to a more productive democracy where decisions can be made based on mutually agreed-upon facts.
To fortify and flourish, we need to protect free speech. Journalists must be able to do their jobs without fear of censorship so that readers have unfettered access to the facts. Free speech is our most important tool in challenging abuses of power. It was a team of journalists at the Indianapolis Star that broke the Larry Nassar scandal, leading to his imprisonment this year. It was journalists who revealed the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan and journalists who dug into Donald Trump’s suspected tax schemes. We’ve witnessed these brave men and women go into storm surges, disasters and war zones to bring us the news.
Yet across the globe, we have also seen egregious attacks on the press. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was captured and murdered for practicing his profession; a shooter entered the Capital Gazette newsroom, killing five members of their staff; The Boston Globe received bomb threats – to name a few. So far, 43 journalists this year have been killed simply for reporting the news. These attacks, while unbelievably tragic in their own right, are also denying citizens their right to be informed. They are silencing the language of America.
This year during Free Speech Week, we must remember the sacrifices of these individuals and demand better protections for the Fourth Estate. The freedom of the press is a fundamental principle of the United States and one we must seek to protect.
The News Media Alliance has joined Reporters Without Borders and other organizations to encourage voters in the U.S. to ask their congressional candidates ahead of the midterm elections where they stand on press freedom. I urge you to speak with your elected officials and work to secure free speech and protections for journalists so that the language of America may thrive.
So what a great time (/sarcasm) for the Washington Free Beacon to report:
A majority of Americans believe the First Amendment should be rewritten and are willing to crack down on free speech, as well as the press, according to a new poll.
More than 60 percent of Americans agree on restricting speech in some way, while a slim majority, 51 percent, want to see the First Amendment rewritten to “reflect the cultural norms of today.” The Campaign for Free Speech, which conducted the survey, said the results “indicate free speech is under more threat than previously believed.”
“The findings are frankly extraordinary,” executive director Bob Lystad told the Washington Free Beacon. “Our free speech rights and our free press rights have evolved well over 200 years, and people now seem to be rethinking them.”
Of the 1,004 respondents, young people were the most likely to support curbing free expression and punishing those who engage in “hate speech.” Nearly 60 percent of Millennials—respondents between the ages of 21 and 38—agreed that the Constitution “goes too far in allowing hate speech in modern America” and should be rewritten, compared to 48 percent of Gen Xers and 47 percent of Baby Boomers. A majority of Millennials also supported laws that would make “hate speech” a crime—of those supporters, 54 percent said violators should face jail time.
American hostility to the First Amendment did not stop at speech. Many would also like to see a crackdown on the free press. Nearly 60 percent of respondents agreed that the “government should be able to take action against newspapers and TV stations that publish content that is biased, inflammatory, or false.” Of those respondents, 46 percent supported possible jail time.
The poll was released just two days after two University of Connecticut students were arrested for allegedly saying racial slurs in a viral video. The 21-year-old suspects were allegedly playing “a game in which they yelled vulgar words,” according to the police report. Lystad said such incidents and the rise of social media may be behind the increased willingness of Americans to curb speech rights.
“I think [our findings] are fueled in large part because of a rise of hate speech, but traditionally, hate speech is protected in the First Amendment,” Lystad said. “The Supreme Court has upheld that principle time and time again.”
Lystad launched the Campaign for Free Speech to advocate for preserving free and open dialogue in America. The group emphasizes that hate speech should be denounced, but does not think censorship is the answer. The group plans to push back against efforts to restrict speech at the local, state, and federal levels.
“Hate speech should be condemned, but legally, the answer to speech we don’t like is more speech, not censorship,” he said. “Our primary focus is education, and to help people better understand the First Amendment, free speech, free press, and why it’s so vital to our democracy.”
If that poll is accurate, it proves that a majority of Americans (that is, those who support restrictions on free speech) are idiots who should start restricting free speech by shutting the hell up. I will not. Ever.
Wisconsin’s attorney general says the governor doesn’t have to answer questions from anyone other than “bona fide” journalists.
Attorney General Josh Kaul made that argument in his response to a lawsuit from the MacIver News Service, which is suing Gov. Tony Evers for being excluded from State Capitol press events.
MacIver, which operates as a news agency under the auspices of the free-market MacIver Institute, wants to be able to attend certain press briefings, namely the sneak peak of the state budget, but Kaul said Evers’ administration can exclude groups if he doesn’t consider them real news organizations.
Kaul’s response says those opportunities are “open to only a select group of invited journalists who meet the criteria for bona fide press organizations.”
Kaul does not define what makes a group a bone fide press organization, nor does his filing list who is or is not on that list. Kaul’s office also did not respond to questions about what makes a journalism organization bona fide, or comment on other possible conflicts of interest for other statehouse media outlets.
MacIver has said liberal-leaning groups have been invited to cover the governor’s press briefings.
MacIver President Brett Healy said the governor’s self-selection of who gets to write about his office is a First Amendment threat.
“All MacIver wants to do is ask the Governor straight-forward questions about his policies and the actions of his administration,” Healy said Monday. “MacIver cannot do our job on behalf of the Wisconsin taxpayer if we are prevented from attending the Governor’s press briefings and other public events.”
Kaul’s filing before the court offers a pithy response to that idea.
“MacIver does not argue that its journalists will be unable to report on news relating to Governor Evers absent an injunction. It simply argues that it will have to work harder to gather news and break stories relating to Gov. Evers,” Kaul wrote.
Healy said it’s not about working harder, it’s about the simple job of making sure that people know what their government is doing.
“I’m not sure why Governor Evers would be afraid to answer simple questions from the local media,” Healy added.
It’s unknown when the judge assigned the case will rule on Kaul’s request to dismiss MacIver’s lawsuit, or when there may be another hearing.
Skipping out on media you don’t like? Evers’ predecessor never did that. In fact, I observed Walker answering questions from a freelancer who worked for Sly when he was doing his Madison liberal talk show. Walker didn’t duck his questions.
The marketplace can, and does, determine what journalism is deemed legitimate. We’re sure our liberal friends grit their teeth (at a minimum) when President Trump accuses certain outlets as being “Fake News.” They should feel no different when that approach is taken in a court of law by a liberal governor or attorney general.
And had a Republican governor ducked the media as Evers is, with Kaul’s blessing, Democrats would be calling for the governor’s and attorney general’s recalls.
President Donald Trump has seemingly gone back and forth on his opinion of the First Amendment. Just a couple of months ago, the president issued an executive order tying federal research funding to free speech protections given by colleges and universities.
Like many college students, I applauded this as a victory for freedom of speech. I was thrilled that we students could enjoy the freedom to express our opinions and encourage intellectual diversity anywhere on campus—not just in designated “free speech zones.” Then the president made the following tweet:
This tweet is troubling for several reasons. It means the president is not the crusader for free speech he may have earlier appeared to be. This should not come as a shock, however, as Trump is a populist: His stances are often based not on ideologies or absolutes but on what he believes will resonate the best with his base. What is more troubling is how those who pay lip service to conservatism and to defending the Constitution have readily thrown themselves behind the president’s statement.
For example, Candace Owens tweeted the next day that while there should be no jail time or fines imposed on Americans who have set the American flag ablaze, they should be given a year to liquidate their assets and “get the hell out of our country.” When the constitutionality of her campaign promise was questioned, she justified her stance by claiming that the First Amendment includes certain exceptions, citing specifically the fact that it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded building.
Without delving into the constitutionality of laws such as yelling “fire” in a movie theater, or hate speech laws, there are plenty of reasons why making flag burning illegal is dangerous to our republic and contrary to the founding principles of the United States.
Founding father James Madison once said,
For the people to rule wisely, they must be free to think and speak without fear of reprisal.
Madison believed that the right to free speech should be absolute, as the fear of punishment for having the wrong opinion would deter people from speaking out against the state. James Madison was not alone in this view.
John Stewart Mill’s reasoning for the importance of absolute freedom of speech was four-fold. First, for a governing body to deny the right of a person to say something is to say that it knows, in absolute terms, what is right and what is wrong. To deny anybody of the right to express an opinion is to claim infallibility. And to be clear, the US government (as well as President Trump) is by no means infallible.
Second, Mill taught that in silencing a belief, even a false one, a government may still be silencing some truth. Just because someone has an opinion that is wrong on the whole does not mean that every aspect of the opinion is wrong. Third, a belief, even when true, is held more strongly when it withstands scrutiny. When an idea is accepted without being challenged, says Mills, it is not held as strongly and is at greater risk of being lost in the future.
Therefore, it is important that society is exposed to wrong ideas in order to strengthen their belief in the right ones. Finally, Mill taught that any abridgment of the right to free speech carries the risk of the entirety of the right falling. We see this in Owens’ argument. If society agrees that one form of speech should be punished, why not this one, as well?
If Mill’s warning is to be believed, the president and Miss Owens are heading down a slippery slope. There are going to be instances where free speech makes people uncomfortable, but it is the bedrock of a free society, and when it is chipped away, a people risks the very institutions that were built because of it. Flag burning sends a powerful message and is an act that should not be taken lightly. However, it is imperative that we fight for the universal right to do it on any occasion.
Anyone who doesn’t support the free expression of ideas they disagree with, such as burning a flag — be it an American flag or the rainbow LGBTQ flag — can’t really be called a supporter of free expression.
Neither can someone who espouses this, reported by the Daily Wire:
Democrat Rep. Frederica Wilson led a congressional delegation to inspect an immigrant detention facility on Tuesday and following her visit she said that people who are “making fun of members of Congress” online “should be prosecuted.” …
“Those people who are online making fun of members of Congress are a disgrace and there is no need for anyone to think that is unacceptable,” Wilson said during a press conference. “We are going to shut them down and work with whoever it is to shut them down, and they should be prosecuted.” …
Wilson garnered national spotlight in October 2017 over a spat she had with then-White House chief of staff John Kelly, who called Wilson “someone that is that empty a barrel” for allegedly using “a presidential call to Gold Star widow Myeshia Johnson for her own political gain.”
Wilson later laughed over the whole ordeal, which sparked national outrage, after she said on camera: “I’m a rock star now.”
Vote for Democrats, and this is what you get.
Sadly, most Americans do not support the First Amendment. That is, most Americans value their own right of free expression far more than the rights of others, particularly those with whom they disagree — people with opposing political views, a religion they don’t like, a news media outlet they don’t read, and so on.