The Fascist President Trump Defends the First Amendment

I’m old enough to remember the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the 1960s:

The Free Speech Movement (FSM) was a massive, long-lasting student protest which took place during the 1964–65 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. The Movement was informally under the central leadership of Berkeley graduate student Mario Savio. Other student leaders include Jack Weinberg, Michael Rossman, George Barton, Brian Turner, Bettina Aptheker, Steve Weissman, Michael Teal, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others.

With the participation of thousands of students, the Free Speech Movement was the first mass act of civil disobedience on an American college campus in the 1960s. Students insisted that the university administration lift the ban of on-campus political activities and acknowledge the students’ right to free speech and academic freedom. The Free Speech Movement was influenced by the New Left, and was also related to the Civil Rights Movement and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. To this day, the Movement’s legacy continues to shape American political dialogue both on college campuses and in broader society, impacting on the political views and values of college students and the general public.

There wasn’t a lot that the 1960s leftists got right, but the free speech movement was one of those exceptions: the government not only should not interfere with people’s right to speak freely, but is prohibited from doing so. Only the fascists would try to stifle speech.

Imagine my surprise, then, when that most notable of fascists, President Donald Trump, had to take this action:

Trump expected to sign executive order on free speech

By Susan Svrluga | March 21, 2019 | 1:01 PM EDT

President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Thursday afternoon protecting freedom of speech on college campuses, surrounded by student activists who have said conservative views are suppressed at universities across the country.

Trump’s announcement this month that he would make federal funding for universities contingent on assurances of free speech elicited cheers and applause at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting. But it also prompted questions, including who would define and judge free speech, and what type of federal funding could be withheld — research dollars, student aid or both.

There’s more at the original, mostly about the Young Americans for Freedom, but the most important thing is that the article — which was fairly brief — paid scant attention to why the President is taking this action:

Trump strongly defended free speech on campus two years ago after University of California at Berkeley police canceled a talk by the provocative writer Milo Yiannopoulos when masked activists violently protested the speech, setting fires and throwing stones. Trump tweeted the next morning, “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

I have noted previously that it has been the fascist impulse of the left which has threatened the freedom of speech in this country, noting how free speech is being curtailed in what are purportedly free countries, in Western democracies.  The left, not so very long ago the ultimate advocates of freedom of speech, are now at the point where freedom of speech and the press are wholly intolerable . . . because the left no longer control access to publishing and speech. Now that they’ve lost their ‘gatekeeping’ power, thanks first to Rush Limbaugh and talk radio, and then the internet, they wish desperately to get it back.

College campuses are infested with the Special Snowflakes™ who need the protection of others so that their tender ears and sensitive psyches won’t be assailed by hurtful opinions, so much so that they have to try to stop people by whom they are frightened from speaking at all; simply declining to attend a speech the Snowflakes don’t like is just not good enough. But even The New York Times, which so vigorously, and successfully, defended freedom of the press in New York Times Co v United States 403 US 713 (1971). the famous Pentagon Papers case, published this cockamamie defense of suppressing mean speech as the equivalence of violence:

When Is Speech Violence?

By Lisa Feldman Barrett | July 14, 2017

Imagine that a bully threatens to punch you in the face. A week later, he walks up to you and breaks your nose with his fist. Which is more harmful: the punch or the threat?

The answer might seem obvious: Physical violence is physically damaging; verbal statements aren’t. “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

This is a pretty poor example, because the speech made constitutes a credible threat to do physical harm; that’s already a crime. It is not the words which are actionable, but the threat. What would make more sense is an example in which the speech was, “I hate your guts, and hope someone punches you out,” which is certainly hostile, but isn’t making an actual threat.

But the author, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, continues, telling us that hostile speech can have a harmful physical impact:

But scientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain — even kill neurons — and shorten your life.

Your body’s immune system includes little proteins called proinflammatory cytokines that cause inflammation when you’re physically injured. Under certain conditions, however, these cytokines themselves can cause physical illness. What are those conditions? One of them is chronic stress.

There’s more at the original. Dr Barrett tries to take the distinction between speech which is abusive as opposed to obnoxious, holding that abusive speech is physically harmful:

That’s why it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school. He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering.

However, the good professor stated that an obnoxious position, using Dr Charles Murray’s contention that genetics accounts for at least some of the disparity between IQ test scores between the races as an example, can and should be debated.

Dr Barrett concluded:

By all means, we should have open conversations and vigorous debate about controversial or offensive topics. But we must also halt speech that bullies and torments. From the perspective of our brain cells, the latter is literally a form of violence.

Yet, to use her own example, how many people would contend that Dr Murray’s position is abusive as well as obnoxious? After all, couldn’t some black members of his audience take the position that he is not just making a scientific debating point, but calling them, individually, stupid? Couldn’t some people hold that his position actively harms blacks, because it might influence someone else to discriminate against blacks, holding blacks to be inferior candidates for whatever position is under consideration?

In effect, Dr Barrett is taking the position that mean words are the equivalent of physical violence, of ‘breaking your bones’ as it were. She may have taken a distinction between obnoxious and abusive, but others would take such distinctions differently, and her statement that “we must also halt speech that bullies and torments” is a call for the imposition of the police power of the state to do such, though she never states that explicitly. How else, I have to ask, do we ‘halt speech?’

Dr Barrett was defending not allowing Mr Yiannopoulos to speak on “your” campus, but what does that mean? Does it mean bullying a group which chooses to invite him into withdrawing the invitation, or does it mean the use of physical force to prevent such if the invitation is not withdrawn? And in her comparison of hostile speech — though she used a terrible example — as causing physical harm, isn’t she opening the door to criminalizing some cretin calling a coed fat in the same way a physical assault is illegal?

This is the logic of the left, put into words by Dr Barrett but manifested by Antifa thugs and cowardly college administrators, who pay lip service to free speech, but, when the pressure has been put on, act differently.  That the President the left seem to believe is just a jackboot fitting away from being Sturmabteilung is the one who has to defend the First Amendment and freedom of speech shows you just how off kilter the left have become.
If you found this article interesting, annoying or outrageous, please visit my Red State story archive.
My personal website, The First Street Journal, includes articles not necessarily in Red State’s paradigm.
You can follow me on Twitter.