When it comes to Donald Trump’s “Go to Auschwitz!” thugs versus MoveOn.Org’s “Shut them down” rioters, I go for the full Kissinger: “It’s a pity they both can’t lose.” (Kissinger was talking about Iran and Iraq. Close enough)
But they aren’t losing. If fact, the sucker-punching Trumpies and sign-shredding socialists are both winning. The only loser is the principle of free speech.
Trump tells supporters to “rough up” protesters. He publicly suggests he will pay the legal fees of fans who beat up hecklers. He announces he’d personally like to “punch [a protester] in the mouth.” And the Trumpies cheer.
People who disagree with Trump’s politics announce their plans to “shut him down,” to disrupt his speeches and make it impossible for Trump and his supporters to rally. They scream. They yell. They destroy property—then brag they’ve succeeded in silencing their fellow Americans. They consider themselves heroes.
It’s the IWW versus the WWE. And I’d like to respond by saying, “Of course, they’re both wrong.” But is this an “of course” in America anymore?
Is Free Speech Dead?
Why should we believe a majority of Americans actually believe that free speech is an inherent good, the old “I disagree with what you say but would defend blah, blah, blah?” For days I’ve been hearing the opposite: Trump supporters happy that protesters are getting beat downs, and Trump haters thumping their chests in pride over silencing speech they don’t like.
Even the people whose livelihood depends on it—the media—are celebrating assaults on free speech. Hours after he rushed the stage at a Trump event, CNN did a full, sit-down interview with Thomas DiMassimo—the progressive punk who, when he isn’t making videos of dragging the American flag across the ground under the protection of his own free speech rights, is advocating the use of violence to deny Trump’s. Best (or worst) of all: DiMassimo doesn’t see the irony.
Then again, college students are practically pale with irony deficiency at the moment, particularly when it comes to small-L liberal principles. “Feminist” students who shriek like banshees to shout down pro-life women speakers react in outrage at the micro-aggression of said speaker complaining of being “manhandled.”
Liberals simply no longer believe in the value of open discourse, in and of itself. Thus defending it has fallen to the Right—just in time for Trump to arrive.
From Freedom to a Free-for-Brawl
Let’s set aside the fact that Trump is a “conservative” in the same way that Hugh Laurie is a doctor (they both play one on TV). The people swarming to Trump certainly are not of the Left. It’s ridiculous for American conservatives to deny that they are part of the coalition of the Right.
The talk-radio Right absolutely shares Trump’s “punch him in the face” philosophy on free speech. You can say it’s because they’re (as I heard it growing up in rural South Carolina) “no-account white trash,” but there’s not a lot of data to back that up.
There is frustration and fatigue over being played. They’ve watched Black Lives Matter rallies turn into riots, Occupy protests where trash cans get thrown, windows get broken, and cops get hurt, yet nobody gets called a “Nazi.” This violence isn’t a “threat to the republic,” it doesn’t smear the political views of its practitioners. At least, not in “polite society.”
Now imagine you’re a Tea Party supporter watching all this. Your movement involved literally millions of people at thousands of events—and there’s more violence at one G-20 summit than you’ve had at all your events combined. Why, the Tea Party held a massive rally on the National Mall in Washington DC and literally left it cleaner than they found it.
But who are the “haters?” The “violent?” Who’s called “terrorists” by politicians and the press? They are. If you’re going to get called “violent racists” anyway, why not shout “Auschwitz?” Nobody wants to hear what you have to say, nobody cares about the people who are shouting you down—but the media and the Left demand that you respect free speech? No wonder many of the Tea Party Right have given up on playing by the rules.
The Left won’t defend free speech because they don’t believe in it. The Right won’t defend it because it’s a bat only used to beat them down. So where does that leave principled conservatives and libertarians? Vastly outnumbered.