The phrase “freedom of speech” actually means “freedom of speech with consequences.”
Free speech is among the most important tools we have as human beings, but unfortunately, human emotion can often hijack rational thought when presented with something challenging or uncomfortable. This is something we have seen more of since election season started in 2015, and it seems to be facilitated by the capricious megalomaniac we now have in the White House.
Donald Trump has never shown himself to be a fan of the First Amendment. He once sued Bill Maher over a joke, threatened The Onion over a satire piece, and on several occasions during the campaign wished that he could open up the libel laws because he didn’t like things the media was saying about him.
In a recent meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump, when referring to the media, said, “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write.” Hopefully, this is cause for concern, but unfortunately, Trump’s sycophants are too busy worrying about a faux attack on the Second Amendment to realize the biggest threat to our democracy is the demagogue who wants to do away with the reason they’re allowed to express that anger in the first place.
His recent attacks on NFL players for expressing their First Amendment rights was the most disturbing because he was actually bothered he couldn’t force people to act the way he wanted them to. I have since asked numerous people who supported Trump’s rhetoric (I moved from Texas two months ago) what they thought about North Korea actually forcing its citizens to do the same thing, and I have yet to hear an answer. Democracy loses all meaning by doing so.
Be scrupulous, and stay cautious of arguments from authority that suggest any type of free speech or expression being limited. Who are you going to let decide what you get to see and hear? Would you be content with someone saying you’re not allowed to hear a different perspective? I wonder what it is they’re trying to hide.
Authoritarian figures currently running the White House may have the biggest platform for expressing abhorrence toward the First Amendment, but certain groups representing the far-left and the far-right are more similar than they realize because both look to control people. This is what’s known as Horseshoe Theory—when two extreme ideologies aren’t as diametrically opposed as originally thought.
The far-right does what they can to interfere with people’s personal lives: making sure certain sex acts and toys are illegal, whom you can marry, who does what with their own body, and others.
The far-left is more concerned with cultural appropriation, like Cory Goldstein in California and the burrito incident here in Portland, which reminds me: Telling someone they can’t cook a certain food because they weren’t born into the dominant race or culture that makes that dish is the definition of racism. But both extremes have forcefully tried to silence dissenting views.
Right-wingers such as Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter, as well as left-wingers like Ana Kasparian and Anita Alvarez, along with many others, have had their speaking events canceled because of backlash by people who don’t like what they stand for. To be fair, the latter two weren’t necessarily protested by people who lean right, but right-wingers are statistically more violent against those who disagree and have spawned groups like Turning Point USA, which has put together a whiny list of college professors that might challenge their views.
Why feel threatened if you’re so confident your position is correct? There are only two logical choices in this situation: attend or stay home. They have the right to speak and you have the right to not support them by not attending. If you choose to attend—which I suggest you do—then you owe that person your complete attention because it took effort for them to get to that position, and what they are saying might contain truth.
Why is it you know what you know? Remember, everybody knows something you don’t, and even if you disagree with everything someone says, you are still in no position to demand that anyone is forbidden from saying anything. Nobody is always right or always wrong, and the best ideas will typically prevail in the end if there is no corruption or manipulation.
As Christopher Hitchens once said during a debate in Toronto on the subject of free speech, “Don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus, and the feeling that whatever you think, you’re bound to be OK because you’re safely in the moral majority.”
Free speech and expression are among the most important tools we possess, and when sharpened and properly maintained, can be very effective. I didn’t get into journalism so I could keep quiet when our democracy is threatened. I intend to use these tools ad nauseam, and I encourage others to do so as well.
Something to Think About is a recurring opinion column by Daniel Miller. Opinion, advice and review columns reflect those of the writer, not necessarily the editorial staff.