There was a time when yelling “fire” in a crowded theater was the only form of speech not protected by the first amendment. Free speech sits right there next to freedom of religion, the freedom to peacefully assemble and a free press as among our most inalienable rights. Recently, however, many believe our first amendment rights have come under fire. As it turns out, this cloth cuts both ways.
Conservatives argue that liberals, especially those that reside in bastions of higher education, squelch the voices of prominent speakers from the right at commencement addresses and other important speeches. But the outrage doesn’t end there. They also argue that campus “safe zones” that protect individuals from “hate speech” are equally egregious. They often put forth an argument that goes something like, “This is America. I’ve got the right to my opinion. If you don’t like it, don’t listen.”
Those who espouse this kind of thinking often have white faces with bursting capillaries, turning them red. This betrays the reasonableness-facade of their slow-boiling, now hard-cooked, unhappiness. Whether you like them or not, these folks cannot, and will not, be easily dismissed. No one knows this better than Donald Trump, who despite his many flaws, is a marketing and branding genius. He gives these disenchanted folks a voice. More importantly, a reason to vote. This is why he’s now chillin’ in the oval office.
Those who lean left, most who are referred to as “progressives” rather than “bleeding-heart tree-huggers,” can be apoplectic in their outrage over the fact. It is their belief that hate speech exercised by their fellow citizens is now protected by the first amendment. Alas, for this debate to once again be productive, cooler heads must prevail.
Activism is a cool thing. And peaceful protest is among the backbones of our democracy. Many, present company included, thought the SCOTUS decision in “Citizens United” and other similar rulings that freed-up the flow of big money to SuperPacs that sought to influence elections through the sheer weight of their public voices, has turned out to be a zero-sum game. Both sides in the debate have figured out how to utilize this new tool that has little to do with voter perceptions and everything to do with voter fatigue, to no one’s gain [lest the media outlets that have benefited from the influx of promotional dollars be counted].
Free speech is far from dead. In fact, it’s louder than ever. But as has always been the case, free speech that taps into the deep-seated convictions of the majority will always prevail over free speech that doesn’t.