Sometimes someone says something about free speech on the internet and I feel like I'm Sonny Corleone, intemperate and easily manipulated into racing off in a frothing rage to my eventual doom at an unpleasant New York toll plaza, which I suppose in this metaphor is Twitter.
I gotta be me.
I have many free speech pet peeves, but few make me twitchier than the argument that criticism is censorship. I frequently bash that argument — which sometimes goes by the name "speech is tyranny!" or "the right not to be criticized" — along with its idiot half-brother, right not to be offended
This week, Trump supporters are offering the argument.
The impetus is Trump's call to block Muslims from entering the country, and the widespread condemnation of it. Not surprisingly, many have called Trump's proposal racist. It's not my purpose today to explore that assertion, or to discuss my general contempt for Trump and his devotees. Rather, I want to highlight what some of Trump's defenders have said in reply. Consider this:
Mr. Riehl is apparently suggesting that Buzzfeed — a private entity — is undermining free speech by suggesting to its private-employee writers how partisan they may be while flying the Buzzfeed flag. Or maybe Mr. Riehl is suggesting that Buzzfeed is undermining speech by encouraging people to call Trump a racist if they want. Those propositions are both ridiculous, albeit in different ways.
Because I hate life and the sun and its warmth and all that is good, I jumped down this rabbit hole of links. The linked Breitbart post by Mr. Riehl, in classic form, suggested that Trump critics are weak and dangerous, and quoted National Review Online's Andrew McCarthy to suggest that calling Trump a racist is part of the "erosion of First Amendment rights in the United States." He further suggests that criticism of speech in America is somehow dangerous because Europeans restrict and punish a wide variety of speech. This makes little sense to me; if I can't criticize speech the Europeans have made illegal there's very little for me to criticize.
I don't think Mr. Riehl fairly portrays what Mr. McCarthy said in the interview; I heard Mr. McCarthy decry European censorship and question the validity and tone of American criticism of Trump but not suggest that it violated Trump's rights. That's because Mr. McCarthy usually isn't completely ridiculous. The Breitbart article, and Mr. Riehl's spin, are.
Let's leave aside the rather obvious question of whether a man easily cowed by being called a racist is suitable to be Commander-in-Chief. The entire concept of speech violating free speech rights is incoherent and unprincipled. Saying that I silence you by calling you a racist is indistinguishable, logically and stylistically, from saying that I've silenced you and breached your safe space by saying something you think is racist. If American Muslims have to put up with Trump saying they ought to be excluded from reentry if they go to Tijuana for the day (and they do), then Trump has to put up with being called a bigot in response. Anything else isn't American civics; it's transparent and moronic partisanship, worthy of nothing but ridicule.
Perhaps Mr. Riehl will demur that he wasn't saying that accusations of racism actually violate legal rights, but that they merely undermine the spirit of "free speech," or create a hostile atmosphere in which frank speech is discouraged. This, too, is indistinguishable from what I'd expect to hear from a sophomore Sustainable Trigger Warnings major at Brown: "your speech silences me and discourages me from speaking." Maybe Brown can offer Trump a safe space.
There are people that assert that Trump's speech should be punished by the government. They're wrong, and their suggestion stands in opposition to the most fundamental American values. If they try to inflict legal consequences on Trump for his bloviation, let's resist them firmly and without quarter.
But you don't fight the imagined right not to be offended by promoting the notion some speech is so hurty that it violates my rights. If we're going to tel other people they have to walk it off when they're targeted with ugly speech, we have to as well. For God's sake, summon a shred of self-respect.