Students’ screams drown out an invited campus guest. The president curses a peacefully protesting football player and demands he be fired. And the words “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” now seem almost quaint.
A week ago, President Donald Trump asked in a tweet why the Senate Intelligence Committee doesn’t investigate media companies that report “fake news,” which in Trump-speak means real news he doesn’t want you to hear.
A week before, the College of William & Mary’s Black Lives Matter chapter prevented a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia from speaking by rushing the stage and screaming, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
The ACLU would be the first to defend the free speech rights of Black Lives Matter if the same were tried on a member.
Social media have created a world where a growing number hear only ideas they agree with, and being confronted with a different point of view makes them furious, burst into tears or both. What they don’t realize is that shutting down the speech of others is a slippery slope, eventually leading to them being muzzled as well by the powers that be.
The First Amendment guarantees free speech, allowing even hateful white supremacists the right to protest peacefully in Charlottesville, Virginia. They crossed that line when they attacked counterprotesters, and one white supremacist is accused of deliberately driving his car into a crowd of them, killing Heather Heyer.
When those in power decide what speech is allowed, they’ll always ban speech that offends their values or is critical of themselves. Which brings us back to the man in the White House. He wants to expand libel laws, which would limit and punish free speech.
Former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis believed the best way to counter bad speech is with good speech — not enforced silence. And while left wing groups shouting down speakers on campus and Trump demanding that peaceful protesters be punished might seem at opposite ends of the political spectrum, they are, unfortunately, both working to undermine democracy.
Playwright Mike Vogel blogs at newyorkgritty.net.