The Democrats’ Ugly Authoritarian Turn

The Democrats’ Ugly Authoritarian Turn

Freedom isn't more powerful than fear. That's the problem.
David Harsanyi
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“Freedom is more powerful than fear,” announced President Obama from the Oval Office this weekend.

Well, fear is powerful enough to induce Democrats to try and deny hundreds of thousands of Americans their constitutional rights and due process. Fear is also powerful enough to provoke this administration to threaten (and lecture) Americans about free expression rather than reaffirm its importance.

So fear can sometimes be more powerful than freedom. That’s why we have constitutions in liberal democracies. Just in case.

Because while Democrats claim to believe the Second Amendment protects the rights of Americans to own guns, almost every major liberal politician — and leading advocates like The New York Times — has backed a proposal that would arbitrarily, without any transparency, take this right away from them. The no-fly list is a disaster. People are afforded no notice or explanation as to why they’re on it, and they have little recourse to get their names removed. Using it as a tool to restrict any right, is troublesome.

So for those struggling to explain why this issue is so divisive, we can turn to The New York Times editorial board, which pointed out only last year that the reasons for being added to the no-fly list would be “laughable” if they weren’t “such a violation of basic rights.” A democratic society, the board went on to argue, is “premised on due process and open courts cannot tolerate such behavior.”

Eh. They tolerate the behavior sometimes, right? Though no one is in danger of being thrown into an internment camp or imprisoned for dissent, there’s really no better word for it: there’s an authoritarian instinct on the American left these days. You can argue that Republicans had similar inclinations after 9/11, but that doesn’t change what’s happening now.

One of the most often used tactics of authoritarians is to re-imagine ‘freedom’ as a risk-free existence where the state can keep you forever ‘safe.’

One of the most popular tactics of authoritarians is to re-imagine “freedom” as a risk-free existence where the state will keep you forever “safe.” Take this Slate piece by Mark Joseph Stern, who offers an extraordinarily illiberal and muddled comprehension of individual liberty — if we’re working from the Enlightenment definition. He leans heavily on appeals to emotion (fear, in this case) and a utopianism that’s produced a million terrible ideas. “America must not value the liberty to own a gun over the liberty to live free from violence,” explains the subhead.

Well, let’s try this thought out in various forms and see how it fits:

“America must not value the liberty of free speech over the liberty to live free from violence.”

“America must not value the liberty of having a fair trial over the liberty to live free from violence.”

Not soon after I typed the lines above, it hit me that all of these formulations have been used by progressive Democrats in only the past couple of weeks.

The day after Islamists in San Bernardino massacred a bunch of innocent people (possibly, in part, because one of the victims had offended Islamic sensibilities), Attorney General Loretta Lynch pledged that the Department of Justice would go after “hate speech” that might incite violence against the Muslim community.

What kind of speech is she talking about? According to at least one Daily News columnist, it might involve supporting the NRA or being pro-Israel. More subtly perhaps (but not much), we’ve been hearing something similar from liberals on a number of fronts. It’s the NRA that’s guilty of advocating violence, as if the organization could print money rather than simply advocate for tens of millions of paying members interested in petitioning government on the Second Amendment. Only a week ago, any critical rhetoric aimed at Planned Parenthood was considered speech that incited massacres.

Wouldn’t an administration, and a political party, that claims adoration for free expression, first take the time to reaffirm how vital it is in the wake of threats against it — even if the speech were unpleasant or repulsive to most people? I mean, if freedom is more powerful than fear, and all?

And this kind of reaction is not confined to terror-related incidents. Last week, in Iowa, the assumed nominee of the party offered her thoughts on sexual assault. At a press conference, she claimed: “Don’t let anyone silence your voice, you have the right to be heard, the right be believed, and we are with you as you go forward.”

In Cornell’s index of law terms, you’ll find that one the most “sacred principles in the American criminal justice system” is the belief that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. It’s the kind thing even children can repeat. The prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, yada yada yada. CVpLZ6WUsAEQ6PM

You have absolutely no right to be believed. And when a brave soul finally asked Hillary Clinton whether the women who had accused her husband of rape and sexual assault should also be believed before any trial had proven their stories, Clinton responded: “I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence.” Which, of course, the exact opposite of how things work.

It’s also worth noting that most of this rhetoric — regarding rape culture, crime and hate — are most often based on exaggerated, fearmongering claims. The president asks: “What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon?” We don’t allow terrorists to do anything. The dozen pipe bombs in San Bernardino and illegal weaponry used by the Islamic terrorist in Paris, dispute his thesis. But most important, those who support incremental gun confiscation — and that’s really what The New York Times and others are arguing for here — ignore that violent crime has fallen precipitously over the past 40 years while gun ownership has swelled. Since 1993, gun crime has been halved.

That’s guns. And speech? Lynch claims that since 9/11, the Department of Justice has investigated more than 11,000 “acts of anti-Muslim rhetoric.” Now, it’s big news to me that Americans are prohibited from being critical of Islam or any other religion. But the fact is that of those investigations there have only been 45 prosecutions in nearly 15 years — and even fewer convictions. For a diverse nation of over 300 million that’s been attacked by Islamists more than once, that’s a statistic that highlights our everyday tolerance. In 2013, the last year we have data available, 60.3 percent were victims of crimes motivated by anti-Jewish bias and only 13.7 percent by anti-Islamic bias. Hate crimes against Muslims is a small problem in the United States.

I imagine a lot of this illiberal rhetoric can be traced to self-centeredness of modern progressivism. You know, just because something is happening now, and you have a very emotional take on the issue, doesn’t make it the most momentous event that’s ever befallen mankind. Believe it or not, lots of people have considered ideas about freedom and safety before someone gave you a blog.

It’s also the case, that many (most?) liberals don’t see any utilitarian purpose for gun ownership and don’t accept that it’s a basic freedom, no matter what SCOTUS or the Constitution tells us.

Protecting progressive notions of ‘tolerance’ is beginning to supplant the idea of protecting basic rights.

Nevertheless, it’s disturbing to witness so many people cheering and defending the circumventing of due process. On the one hand, some of this might be frustration liberals feel with the sluggish state of American politics — and we see it often in Obama’s contention that executive power (“doing something”) is necessary because the democratic process is moving too slow for his liking. A more concerning scenario, though, is that protecting progressive notions of “tolerance” is beginning to supplant protecting basic rights. On some campuses we see this manifesting in talk about “respect” being more coveted than free speech.

Or perhaps the whole thing is just a gimmick by Democrats who are intent on portraying Republicans as bigots and deflecting any responsibility from their policies regarding terrorism. This is a dangerous game. (When Donald Trump — who, unsurprisingly is the only Republican candidate who supports denying Americans on no-fly lists gun rights — advocated banning all Muslim immigration yesterday, most of the Republican Party rightly condemned the idea. There was no such reaction to Obama’s no-fly list gun ban.) Whatever the case, let’s not pretend the case for liberalism isn’t predicated on fear. Fear of “hateful” speech. Fear of terrorism. Fear of global warming. Fear of guns. Fear of debate.

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David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.

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