Freedom is more than an academic discussion
I remember when Barack Obama was first elected and then reelected. I also remember some of the more rabid anti-Obama rants I encountered in my then new social media life. The same sorts of comments seem to be occurring again. This time, of course, they are directed against Donald Trump and his supporters. There is, however, a difference. What is the nature of that difference? Simply this: as bad as some of the unsubstantiated and arguably misinformed to downright dishonest attacks on Barack Obama were, and I encountered some that were really bad, they usually did not reach the level of vituperation I’m seeing now. When I or others questioned bizarre assertions about Mr. Obama, those attackers who were arguably what Eric Hoffer would have called true believers at least had the decency to respond with a “yes, but” sort of answer. It was usually no more logically satisfying than the psychological game of the same name described by Eric Berne, but it wasn’t usually an attack on the questioner (though there were exceptions).
The attacks on Donald Trump are different. Certainly, many of them are just as baseless, but the response of those who make them to those who question them is much different. From childish name calling to threats of physical violence, daring to question the accuracy or fairness of the attacks is an invitation to be at least verbally abused. The nature of the debate has changed. I have written before (here, here, here and here) about things related to the Left’s meltdown over Trump. I think I can understand a reason for their shock, anger and even outrage (baseless, though I think it is). What I do not accept is that any of that justifies many of the actions we’ve seen of late. Vandalism is not a protected exercise of your 1st Amendment rights. Calls for violence are not reasoned discourse. Rioting because you don’t like a scheduled speaker’s political stance, including his support of the current President, is not productive. Look, I don’t agree with Milo Yiannopoulous on a lot of things, including his approach. So what? We defeat objectionable ideas with better ideas, not with violence.
Here’s the thing about freedom, the thing about liberty. Either you are committed to it for everyone, including those with whom you disagree intensely, or you are not committed to it at all. The problem with refusing to allow those with objectionable ideas to express them is simply this: what happens when you and your ideas become “the objectionable?” If you believe your cause is so pure, so just and so right as to be beyond becoming objectionable one day, I submit your reading of history is severely lacking. Enlightened self-interest then, if nothing else, suggests a greater willingness for others to exercise their freedoms rather than less, is the desirable approach. If you fall somewhere to the right and allow your movement to be used by those intent on causing violence, you’re not helping things get better and you’re certainly not promoting freedom, just disorder. If you fall to the left and allow the same thing to happen to your movement (the actions of “Black Bloc” groups, for instance), you are not promoting freedom, merely chaos.
NOTE: If you’d like a slightly different take on Black Bloc, I encourage you to read here.