When I was in high school they used to show a film that started with a guy in a Nazi uniform putting on a swastika armband. As the camera drew back, you could see he was on a contemporary American street among many passersby. He started handing out leaflets, getting frowns for his trouble.
The idea of the film was that Constitutional free speech meant the freedom to say things that other people might find offensive. In those days, Nazi rhetoric was considered the ultimate in offensive speech. Today, the standard has changed to anything Donald Trump happens to be saying.
Maybe we should review the source for the whole free speech idea. It’s the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
It was a little hard to swallow back in the old days that somebody could actually stand on a street corner and say a bunch of Nazi stuff and get away with it under the First Amendment. The free speech idea is still difficult for some people. For example, some college campuses like Yale have “safe zones” where students are “safe” from any speech that offends them.
The First Amendment has been used to justify a lot of things that the people who wrote it never imagined it applying to. The real focus was speech about politics and society. That was the kind of speech that was important to a country that had recently managed to fight its way out from under what they saw as an oppressive Big Government, the rulership of Britain.
So I was surprised the other day when I listened to a Donald Trump speech, and heard disruptive outbursts from protesters about every four minutes. It might be argued that they had a right to protest. However, the security guards escorting them out were evidence that they didn’t have a right to protest inside the hall where the speech was taking place. This is happening a lot.
But there is a bigger concern, a concern far greater than whether or not a Donald Trump speech is disrupted. If we’ve come to the point of shouting down every idea with which we disagree, we’re in trouble. It seems self-contradictory to use speech for the purpose of shutting off speech. We’ve already seen in history what happens when the right to speak is dictated by the group with the loudest volume. I don’t hear such disruptions at Hillary speeches. Is this because nobody disagrees with her? Hmm.
The purpose of this piece is not to defend or promote any political candidate. Perhaps it is simply to remind ourselves of something Rod Serling once said: “For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized.” Telling people whose ideas don’t jibe with our own to shut up is the first step toward a place where none of us really want to be.
Did he accidentally violate a “safe zone?”