Heckler’s Veto   11 comments

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Let’s talk about speech. We all know that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution reminds the federal government that it may not infringe upon the freedom of speech of its citizens. The government has tried to countermand this infringement of its authority on several occasions. The second president of the country, John Adams famously tried to overrule the Constitution with the Alien and Sedition Act.Woodrow Wilson did something similar during the 1st World War. Those are only two of several examples.

But today’s topic is not about government infringement. That’s well-traveled ground. No, I want to discuss the freedom of speech in the context of ordinary citizens trying to infringe upon each other’s right to express an opinion.

I’ve made no secret on this blog that I consider Donald Trump to be odious and a very poor pick for President of the United States. I cringe at least once every time I hear him speak. I’ve wanted to smack him more than a couple of times. I’m not alone, there are many folks who don’t want Trump to be President … and that includes many Republicans who are as dumbfounded as I am as to how he keeps winning primaries. I can be excused for being surprised — I’m not a Republican — but I know Republican Party leaders here in Alaska who say they have no idea how Trump managed to gain such a foothold (though he lost to Cruz in Alaska). He actually only wins about 30-40% of the GOP vote in most of these primaries, but in a divided field, he is the front-runner … which, by the way, is how McCain and Romney became the nominees in the last two Presidential elections … which calls that whole process into question. If the party where the majority of members describe themselves as conservatives keeps nominating big spending progressives and now Donald Trump there is something deeply wrong with its nomination processes.

But enough about that. Let’s stop chasing rabbits and get to the point.

Donald Trump canceled a speech in Chicago claiming that protesters were threatening violence. There is some credibility afforded to that claim by a prior incident in St . Louis. It seems some of the less thoughtful of Trump’s supporters and some of the more odious of his detractors are coming to blows over what Trump has to say. Imagine that! Two individuals from opposing groups of bullies conflicting with one another to the point of throwing punches.

Who could have seen that coming?

Of course, progressives like Rachel Maddow insinuate that Trump is creating a situation a black flag situation:

Violence at these events, which may start organically, is in effect spotlit and encouraged to the point where it becomes something that is legitimately out of anyone’s control. And, then, the spectacle of political violence is itself seen as something that is a problem that needs to be solved by this strongman character who incited the initial event in the first place.

Very much not a Trump supporter, but I don’t see that. I don’t think Trump is that smart, but I am also aware that there is a problematic counter-dynamic at work here. The story has continued with protesters blocking traffic in Arizona and elsewhere. I’m not terribly surprised, actually, because the American left long ago embraced an anti-free-speech mentality that they have taught on campuses and in some media outlets for decades. It can be readily summed up by one prominent Bernie Sanders supporter who helped organize the anti-Trump protest in Chicago — “Everyone, get your tickets to this. We’re all going in!!!! ‪#‎SHUTITDOWN‬.”

Shut it down! Because in a democratic society we can’t have people holding opinions that we don’t agree with? This just mirrors the climate on college campuses across the country where speakers aren’t challenged on unpopular viewpoints but simply dis-invited or shouted down to a degree that a thug’s veto prevails.

Debate as a public virtue is long dead. It’s been years since Americans stopped debating about the conditions under which free speech might be allowed and instead are debating whether the idea of free speech can even be justified. Check out the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for a fuller discussion of this history.

To be fair, this assault on free speech is not entirely the responsibility of the left. The right has its own version of political correctness that is used to stifle voices with which it disagrees. Regardless of which end of the political spectrum we stand on, many people are pushing for freedom from speech.

Public debate is no longer seen as a means to search for truth, knowledge, and common ground, but only as a venue for speech that expresses unthinking solidarity with whatever you already believe. Other views are considered “inflammatory”, and therefore, subject to curtailment.

Of course the Trump campaign should disown violence among the candidate’s followers. Violence is always inappropriate unless it is in direct self-defense from violence directed at you or someone in your presence.

On the other hand, anti-Trump-protesters need to learn the difference between protesting in opposition of an idea or a candidate they don’t like and eradicating lawful speech in the public square. I don’t like Trump or what he has to say, but I will defend his right to say it. I don’t like Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton either, but they have a right to speak on subjects where I disagree with them. I choose to turn into their debates just to hear what they have to say. For freedom of speech to exist, we all have to allow room for speech we abhor, recognizing that there are others who likely abhor our speech. The curtailment of speech creates an absence of political debate with far-reaching destructive consequences.

In the absence of political debate, what are we left with? That question ought to scare the hell out of you.

There’s an old analogy going back into the 19th century concerning how Americans decide the course of our society. It’s called the four boxes of liberty.

The first is the ballot box. We can vote for our representatives. The problem with this is that politicians really aren’t representing most voters these days. Instead, they lie to get into office and once there they pursue their own agendas and refuse to listen to the people who elected them, let alone people of another political stripe. Elections have consequences, but nobody foresaw the ones we currently are experiencing. If yours is not the political party in power, even by a narrow minority, you are in effect slaves of the state with no say in the political course of the nation or your community for the four years following the election your party lost. Thus, people are increasingly suspicious of elections as a method of organizing society. They see the lack of clarity and representation as a good reason to not vote. Voting is seen as giving your consent to be ruled rather than as participating in a society where everyone has a voice.

The second tool of liberty is the jury box. In past generations, juries understood that they had a right to rule on the law a person was being tried on as well as on the facts of the case. Nowadays, judges instruct them otherwise, so that a juror feels he/she must find someone guilty of things that the government ought not to even be involved in.

The third tool of citizen liberty is the soap box. And that’s really what we’re discussing right now. Do we have the right — if not the obligation — to educate our fellow citizens with facts they may not be aware of or opinions with which they disagree? Historically, Americans would have said “Hell, yes!”, but those same Americans trusted that their votes counted for something and that their ruling in the jury box held authority. That’s no longer the case which leaves us with ….

What’s left after the first three boxes fail or become unavailable is the bullet box. There are people who might read this who will immediately say I don’t have the right to say that.

Would you rather be surprised when the shooting starts?

I know that sounds provocative. I mean it to, because the folks calling for this candidate or that ideology to shut the fuck up and not disagree with them need to HEAR what I am saying. It’s a dangerous game you’re playing and one I pray does not yield the harvest you’re sowing.

I am not calling for violence of any kind. I’m merely reading the handwriting on society’s wall. When you silence the voices espousing ideas you don’t like, you don’t silence the ideas, you just give them no peaceful outlet. Those ideas go on in secret, frustrated and building in pressure until the lack of freedom inevitably foments violence against the oppressors. Our Founders understood this. It’s human nature. The right to express an opinion is a natural human liberty as necessary as oxygen. That’s not just Trump supporters. That’s everyone. Our Founders acknowledged that right in the Constitution. They didn’t create the right. They acknowledged that it already existed.

If elections don’t matter, if the jury is a rubber stamp for the prosecution and the judge, and then you also stifle debate … what is left for the silenced but violence? You fear that Trump’s ideas will be accepted by many and that will somehow silence what you believe, but in reality, what silences your beliefs are your own attempts to silence the beliefs of others.

You can see what one of the American Founders had to say on the subject here.

11 responses to “Heckler’s Veto

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  1. Pingback: Jefferson on the Heckler’s Veto | aurorawatcherak

  2. Excellent food for thought. If we weren’t spreading ideas of hate in the ‘off season’ they wouldn’t be catching like wild fire now. Trump is the result of an odious and long standing acceptance of hate amongst our citizens. We’re not doing well enough teaching our children. If we were, this wouldn’t be happening. We wouldn’t need to question free speech.

    The false accusations he’s making of other candidate’s supporters is blindly being trusted as fact with no back up. But, even if they are confrontational, he set that tone whipping up violence on his end. Humanity still faces violence with violence when it comes to push.

    Quite frankly, I’m tired of being whipped for supporting the only one I believe is an upstanding representative and has been since before his career, by a group willing to push a corporate shill on us, likely to be impeached for her arms deals within her first term should she get elected, or the false accusations of ism’s they don’t understand but heard used wrongly elsewhere and it works for them because it scares the simple minded.

    Still, hate speech is not and should not be protected as it leads to exactly this kind of violence. If people want to protest his speeches, they have the right to do so unaccosted.

    Have you seen the hug a trump supporter video at the Bernie rally? That is an example of their differences, an where we should be headed.

    Also, I posted an article written by a Scandanavian that explains their system and why it is the future and not absurd not unreasonable, but what we ought to expect from what we are paying (taxes) for.


    • Kelly, with all due respect, the violent protests are coming from the Sanders camp. You have the right to support whomever you want for a candidate, but nobody has the right to shut down speech they don’t like … and that is the entire point of my article, in case you missed it.

      This is the same position I held when it was the Teaparty being falsely accused of hate speech by the left and also when the right wanted to shut down Occupy Wall Street.

      People have a right to an opinion and to express it peacefully. If you don’t like it, turn the channel.


  3. Well said Lela. I also have to say, I’m sick and tired of protests. They do little to get their message across and serve to irritate, scare and disturb innocents who have nothing to do with their issue or little to do with making change on the “issue”. Closing down businesses and creating havoc in the lives of people who are overworked and underpaid while trying to go about their daily business only to find they can’t shop, get to work or travel along the routes of their choice because “Protesters” are creating strife. I have yet to see a protest, with a clear message and an obvious solution. If these people spent their time researching candidates, and laws, and government, they would find that their voices would be better served than pissing off regular citizens going about their day. I’m mostly of a mind to automatically go against any “Protest” just because of the way it’s handled. Don’t like something? Try getting a bill passed. Want to see change in the law? Write the law and work through the channels to get it passed. Think this candidate or that is bad? Vote for another one. Protests are showing me that these are people are too lazy to try and work their way through the system to make the change required, or not smart enough to go about it in the way that is necessary. Little change comes from protests, other than knee-jerk reactions to try and appease. That isn’t lasting nor is it effective.


    • I have no problem with PEACEFUL protest even when I vehemently oppose the message being offered. There is nothing wrong with groups of people gathering to show that an idea is not just a one-off individual with an ax to grind. I’m thinking of the Teaparty and, to a lesser extent, Occupy Wall Street. Toqueville lauded Americans for our ability to make use of that form of political pressure because a single vote has no power.

      I used to believe as you do that you should try to get bills passed and I live in a state where you can actually accomplish that — small-population, populace, your representatives are your neighbors here in Alaska. But I’ve come to the conclusion in the last eight years that legislation just results in a loss of freedom for everyone. Maybe instead of trying to impose our agenda on the rest of the country, we ought to seek more local control and diversification within the country and fewer laws in general.


  4. Hi Lela! Very well said. I agree with your thinking and you made excellent points. We are certainly on a dangerous path and I don’t foresee any good coming from the continuation of name calling, provocation and game playing. These kinds of activities beg for trouble and escalation. We all have the right to dissent and disagree but as you and other commentators above write, there are many vehicles in place to make our opinions and thoughts known. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  5. In this day and age when the only way to get your voice heard is by making the news, protests serve a purpose. That being said, I don’t believe in violence. But I also don’t believe in standing by and saying nothing when someone makes a raciest joke or bullies another person. At what point does saying nothing become an unspoken approval of the message that is being presented?


    • Who is saying nothing? The establishment Republicans have been after Trump on his message for months. The National Review (which is more conservative than the GOP) devoted an entire edition to opposing him. I’ve written disparaging things about him on my blog.

      And, ultimately, there is nothing wrong with mass protest. I joined the local teaparty group to protest massive government debt and the federal takeover of healthcare. We stood on the side of the road and waved signs and some people shouted slogans. There was no violence … and no, there was no racism involved. We were simply tired of being ignored by the government that claims to represent us and we did something public to express our frustration. It did not work, probably because we were too polite.

      The Sanders supporters who are fomenting violence against Trump’s supporters in an attempt to silence him and his message have carried their protest too far. There are appropriate ways to oppose a message, but violence and banned speech are not among of them.

      We ought to be debating the issues and who can best address them, not blocking traffic and trying to silence various groups because we don’t like their message.


  6. I love the bit about politicians who lie to get into office and then pursue their own agendas. It seems very apt even here on the other side of the pond!


    • I think it’s the nature of all politicians. Some people choose politics because they like to be in control of other people and so the job is a reward unto itself. Other folks start out in politics with good intentions, but they are quickly corrupted by the power and the money that flows to power. It’s a mistake though to think that just because no money is changing hands that the politician has not been corrupted by something else – power and prestige are as strong an attractant as money.

      Liked by 1 person

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