Saturday, March 12, 2016

About Last Night ...

Are you a supporter of freedom of speech?

Are you a supporter of what happened in Chicago last night?

It is not possible to be both. The two are not compatible.

If you support freedom of speech, you cannot support any efforts to prevent others from exercising their rights to free speech — which is what the protesters in Chicago did last night. They created an unsafe environment and forced controversial Republican front–runner Donald Trump to cancel a planned rally.

If you support what happened in Chicago, you cannot be a supporter of freedom of speech — even if you claim otherwise.

No matter what anyone says on any subject, someone will be offended by it, especially in these polarized times. If I didn't know it before, I certainly learned it when I worked for newspapers in less polarized times.

Freedom of speech exists to protect unpopular speech. It doesn't have to be universally unpopular, either. Clearly, Trump's opinions appeal to some voters and not to others.

But that isn't really so unusual in American politics, is it? I can think of no issue in my lifetime — not a single one — on which there has been universal agreement among the voters. I have often told my journalism students that you won't get unanimous agreement on any proposal in a public opinion poll, even something that you would think would be a slam dunk, like the sky is blue and the grass is green.

Thus, the need for freedom of speech, which protects everyone's right to speak.

That includes the freedom to worship — or not — as you see fit. Both freedom of religion and freedom of speech are protected by the First Amendment.

(The First Amendment also guarantees the people the right to peaceably assemble — I'll get back to that shortly — and freedom of the press.)

Many of the protesters in Chicago were there acting on behalf of others. I have heard today that left–wing activists at were behind it, along with supporters of socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders — but last night I heard nothing about who might have been behind it.

I just know that I saw several people who declined to give any reason at all why they were so intent upon preventing a presidential candidate from speaking, and that struck me as highly implausible. I mean, if you're going to go to the trouble of participating in a protest rally, you must have some pretty strong feelings about the subject, right? Why would you decline to give your reasons when you had a somewhat captive audience?

For example, I saw one Hispanic female being interviewed briefly on TV. When she was part of the crowd, she was shouting obscenities. When asked by a reporter what her reasons for participating were, she said she didn't want to give her reasons. Why not?

Do you suppose the reason might have been that they were paid to undermine free speech?

Because that is what they did. They undermined free speech — whether they were paid to do so or not.

Americans are free to agree or disagree with political candidates. They are also free to attend rallies and debates and listen to what the candidates have to say. It's part of the decision–making process.

Americans are also allowed to peaceably protest, as I mentioned before. The Bill of Rights is rooted in the experiences the Founding Fathers had had as subjects of a foreign power, and they sought to guarantee the freedoms for which many fought and died.

But when protests turn violent, they will soon become riots if not held in check somehow. In Chicago, the candidate reached the conclusion that best way to do that would be to cancel the rally rather than put people in harm's way.

The Americans who came to the rally to listen to what was said, not to shut it down, were denied their rights by what appeared to be mostly 20–somethings who, like many of their generation, have pretty skewed ideas about what freedom of speech means — and whose concept of free speech involves as many loud obscenities as can be wedged into a sentence, not the use of logic.

As I listened to some of the protesters being interviewed, I heard one recurring theme from those who chose to say something other than that they didn't want to talk about their reasons.

That theme was that they were entitled to the benefits of freedom of speech — but not anyone who disagrees with them.

Sorry, folks, that isn't the way it works.

Freedom belongs to all, not a few.

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