I’ve been told I’m a racist, neo-Nazi scumbag.
Considering the source, I’m cool with that.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump. I think the Confederate flag is a symbol of treason and bigotry. If I found a statue of Robert E. Lee lurking in my front yard, I’d promptly take a sledgehammer to it.
But in today’s hyper-tense political atmosphere, that’s not sufficient. To be deemed acceptable by the liberal guardians of social interaction, it’s less about what I believe and more about whether I’m willing to suppress what other people believe.
I support free speech. Unfortunately, that term has been co-opted by the alt-right, and is now considered synonymous with hateful verbiage. White supremacists and similar slime are using the rights granted by the Constitution’s First Amendment to express opinions that I find repulsive.
I support that.
In fact, I think it’s essential for the future of representative democracy that these gormless meatbags be allowed to say whatever they like. Because once Americans start censoring political speech, it’s only a matter of time before somebody in government (and you know who runs the government) decides that what I have to say is so wrongheaded that it must be prohibited.
In this belief, I’ve found myself allied with the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that’s defended the rights of fascists and Ku Klux Klan members to march and give speeches, not because the ACLU agrees with those clots of bacteria, but because even human garbage has the same legal protections as the rest of us.
Unfortunately, of late, the ACLU seems to be backing away from its absolute support for unfettered speech, saying it would no longer defend groups that bring weapons to their rallies. Gun rights supporters take note.
That’s not good enough for the more extreme elements of the left. In a recent radio interview with Maine Public, one former contributor to the ACLU said the organization’s support of free speech was “appalling” and “terrifying.”
Let’s be clear. Speech is not a crime. Violence is a crime, and the Constitution doesn’t protect it. Whether it’s Trump supporters roughing up protesters at campaign rallies or antifa goons cracking right-wingers’ heads at one of their hate fests, such behaviors are attempts to suppress free speech. Both are steps on the road to totalitarianism. It makes little difference to me whether the dictators turn out to be leftists or rightists, since I’m bound to annoy either one.
The current liberal effort to squelch the speech of walking cancer tumors with swastika armbands smacks of McCarthyism. In the 1950s, Republican U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin labeled everyone with the slightest leftward leaning as a communist. His efforts cost people their reputations, their jobs and even their liberty for no greater transgression than espousing a political philosophy that a certain ill-shaved, rumple-suited, self-appointed arbiter of American values found objectionable.
Don’t be that guy.
And don’t be his modern-day counterpart, clothed in black (since the other side had already claimed brown shirts), identity concealed by a scarf (since the other side already had dibs on sheets), intent not on persuasion, but intimidation (at last, something both sides have embraced). Be respectful enough of our Bill of Rights to believe the answer to halting the spread of hateful speech is sensible arguments against it.
There are a lot of things in this world I don’t like and would be happy to see vanish: Adam Sandler, baseball stadiums with artificial turf, flavored vodka, Brussel sprouts, software updates that screw up my iPad, man buns, Starship’s song “We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)” and – yeah – Nazis. But I long ago realized I’m unlikely to get my way on any of them. And I long ago rejected trying to enforce my views by legal mandate, since that would conflict with my libertarian ideals, not to mention political reality.
Instead, I’ll switch off the radio, the TV, the oven and the iPad, and instead, with some reservations, write a check to the ACLU to show my support for what’s left of the group’s fortitude in holding its collective nose and doing the right thing.
You might consider doing the same.
If you can’t get that awful Starship song out of your head, complain to firstname.lastname@example.org.