How Free Speech Died in America
First of all, the purpose of this article is not to dispute the effectiveness of our First Amendment right. Our First Amendment has protected us from any government interference in regards to speech. As far as I’m concerned, the government isn’t imprisoning people for speaking freely or imposing any laws that limit speech. The purpose of this article is rather to think about how our political ideology is affecting our culture.
The Bill of Rights was made solely to limit the government. They all address some type of restriction to the long arm of Uncle Sam. At the time of the Framers, that may have been enough. Even as recent as the 90’s and early 2000’s, there was a different feel to our political and social world. People may have disagreed, but for the most part, there was still a sense of respect and understanding from both sides.
The birth of political correctness and the recent popularity of socialism in the United States has carved a path to cultural restrictions, or mob/majority rule. There is a political residue that seeps into our society. For most people, it seems that our political ideology is shaping our individual lives, instead of the other way around. For instance, despite how liberal some of President Bush’s policies were, a majority of the right would always defend him. Despite President Obama’s warring tendencies or his attacks on Romney while only later admitting Russia is a threat, liberals would always make excuses or just ignored it. Today, liberals are advocating for investigations into President Trump’s ties with Russia, while conservatives tend to shake that off, but staunchly support the prosecution of Hillary. On both sides, the hypocrisy is deep.
The reason why I’m adamant about pointing out how our political leanings change based on what the current trend is because it’s important to understand that politics shape our lives, instead of our lives shaping our political beliefs.
This relates to free speech, because the culture of the Left is shaped by the current political trends. In other words, the Left has become far more Left. Since they can’t restrict free speech through law, they do it through attempting to establish societal standards. Yes, this may be technically legal (except when the riots start), but is it really okay? The Left isn’t unbiased. Much like dictators, they aren’t silencing people because they have offensive opinions, but because those opinions challenge their beliefs. In America, a safe space has become a place where free speech is shunned, when in reality, a safe space should be a place where debates are openly held without discrimination, instead of trying to silence the opposition. For many years, libertarians and conservatives have been silent, because the Left’s political ideology (their role models being Guevara, Castro, and Sanders) affects their actual lives. If the government cannot restrict speech, then the Left will.
However, much like communist and authoritarian dictators, the Left isn’t trying to block speech they find offensive, but to remove political opponents. For example, Milo Yiannopoulos said something rather crude regarding pedophilia, and while most of the Right found it offensive, the Left completely ostracized him. It became global news for a straight week until he was forced to quit his position and lose his book deal. The video that resurfaced was before his rise as a political icon, and while I don’t personally agree with everything he does, it certainly seems pointed. Especially since liberal celebrities such as Bill Maher and George Takei said far worse things about pedophilia and were given a pass.
The Right can be accused of doing the same thing, but not nearly to the same extent. The Left’s political ideology has taught them that they can control our democracy. If the government won’t restrict free speech, then it’s up to the people to do so. This is also a casual effect on the extreme partisanship of our communities. In a conversation with my wife, I even began to realize how partisan I had become when, instead of hearing her out, I would only seek to shut down her claims. Having constant conversations with my wife since, and with a more open mind, has allowed us both to grow. I may still debate her, but it’s in that very debate where we end up learning most.
I understand that everyone has their free will, but when you’re the largest and loudest political group in America, you begin making the rules. You begin implementing the societal standards that you have always petitioned (with failure) for the government to do. You attempt to silence those with differing opinions, such as the owner of Chick-Fil-A for saying he believed in traditional marriage; or you politically assassinate icons by digging up something in their past, like McInnes or Yiannopoulos. Although I don’t agree with what they said, I would still give them a platform, just as I would give platforms to all the Left-winged hypocrites that spout racist and sexist things.
Lastly, if all else fails, the Left will simply attempt to smear their opponent by using trigger words to label their opponent as something bad (sexist, racist, misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic, etc.). This was displayed when liberals across the world declared that all Trump supporters were all of these neat little insults bundled into one. Their reasoning was that anyone that voted for Trump must all share in his perceived racism, sexism, and all the other isms. Instead of hearing the voters out and maybe understanding that people voted for Trump because they had been beaten down the last 8 years by President Obama’s policies, they just decided to label them all as—for lack of a better word—deplorable.
Many of these universities, protesters, and groups that seek to restrict free speech are just hurting themselves, and our country. We are a country of ideas. Even if you don’t agree with an idea, giving that idea a platform allows you to debate it and give an opposing opinion, which does far more to sway others than silencing said opinion. Not allowing that person to speak just raises resentment, and in the end, brings more people to their cause.
One thing I’ve noticed, while the Left generally seeks to restrict speech, they are not unanimous in their cause. Leftist leaders like Bill Maher encourage free speech, and even liberals in my own community are condemning these attempts to attack free speech. The silent ones, fed up with political correctness and restrictions on free speech, rose up and voted Trump into office, and although I’m not his biggest fan, his election taught me one thing: that while liberals are the loudest, there is still a large group out there that values the free transfer and debate of ideas.
Featured image: The Rationalist
* Braden Paynter is your average Joe Schmoe, who loves his country and all the freedom it entails. He has received an education in political science and international politics and regularly contributes articles to libertarian sites.