As we navigate the increasingly choppy waters of political discourse in our society, it might be helpful to have some rhetorical buoys marking where the hazards are. That way, everyone could see consistent boundaries.
For example, a year ago this month America watched in horror as a deadly riot ensued at a white nationalists’ gathering in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the forefront of the criticism of the neo-Nazis and Klansmen who participated in the event was The New York Times, which not only bashed the hatred on display but lashed out at those who suggested it took two sides to fight, such as President Donald Trump whom the Times accused of sympathizing with racists by saying the event drew some “very fine people.” Last August the Times also fired an editorial writer — on the same day he started — after learning he claimed to be friends with neo-Nazis. Yet in recent days the Times has stood solidly behind its new editorial writer, Sarah Jeong, who has authored some shameful, hateful, racist tweets about white people. So, is not all racism the same?
Earlier this week some Silicon Valley giants — Facebook, YouTube, Apple — threw goofy and sometimes unhinged conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his “Infowars” website off their platforms, citing Jones’ “hate speech.” Only Twitter, as of Wednesday, still provided Jones an outlet. Yet those same companies still permitted Louis Farrakhan, the black nationalist who leads the Nation of Islam and who has floated some ghastly, racist conspiracy theories of his own about Jews and white people, to retain his social media presence. (Although Facebook did remove one of Farrakhan’s video rants about interracial marriage.) Again, is not all hate speech the same?
Thus, buoys marking the channel of civic debate would be helpful.
We shouldn’t need such identifiers when the government gets involved; the boundaries ought to be clear. But recent events – like a federal judge’s 11th-hour ruling stopping the dissemination of blueprints for 3-D guns on the internet, a First Amendment issue and not one related to the Second Amendment – indicate the integrity and tradition of the First Amendment are at stake. So, all of us, regardless of political persuasion, should speak out to prevent further erosion of this treasured right.
Jones and others can be annoying and perhaps, to some, threatening. But do his rants about 9/11 being the government’s inside job or school shootings featuring “child actors” really constitute a threat to the “survival of our democracy”? Of course not, and neither do Farrakhan’s ridiculous ramblings.
The problem is that politicians want to legislate against speech they don’t like — and suggest they’ll use, or actually utilize, the government’s power to crack down on it. We cannot allow that. If we don’t vigorously defend free speech, even from the most odious voices, even from those we disagree with, we’ll soon witness more frequent official taps on the mute button.
A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Lakeland Ledger, a sister paper of the Daily News with gatehouse Media.