Donald Trump

Free Speech Gave Us Trump

But restrictions on speech will give us something worse.

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As the 2016 election judders to a halt, cable news and cocktail chatter seem to consist of little more than endless incredulous repetition of Donald Trump's most quotable quotes. His 2005 hot mic comments about the appropriate way to interact with women, his preferred characterization of Islam, his views on the character of our southern neighbors as well as black citizens here at home have each come up for scrutiny. Trump, in turn, decries political correctness and shrugs "It's just words, folks."

There's something heartening, however, to be found in the deep awfulness of his public statements over the years: the fact that he remains a free man despite uttering them. Because in quite a few otherwise civilized countries, a good deal of what leaves the GOP presidential nominee's mouth on the topic of Muslims, women, and Mexicans could land him in jail.

In the two years since he published his controversial screed against Islamic immigration, Le Suicide Français, the French polemicist Éric Zemmour "has spent half his time collecting prizes and the other half defending himself in court," The Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell explained in a devastating October cover story. Zemmour's crime is writing sentences like these: "Islam is incompatible with secularism, incompatible with democracy, and incompatible with republican government. Islam is incompatible with France."

Stack those strong words up against Trump's comment to CNN's Anderson Cooper in March: "I think Islam hates us." Spokeswoman Katrina Pierson expanded on the candidate's view of the world's second largest religion the following day, saying: "We've allowed this propaganda to spread all through the country that this is a religion of peace."

Or how about this famous line, which Trump dropped into his announcement of the launch of his presidential campaign in 2015? "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They bring crime. They're rapists.…And some, I assume, are good people."

Sounds awfully similar to a bit of 2012 radio commentary about Roma immigrants by the Canadian provocateur Ezra Levant. "Too many have come here as false refugees," he said. "They come here to gyp us again and rob us blind as they have done in Europe for centuries.…They're gypsies. And one of the central characteristics of that culture is that their chief economy is theft and begging." A month later, Toronto Police constable Wendy Drummond confirmed, "The hate crime unit is investigating." Levant had already run afoul of Canada's hate speech laws in the late '00s, when the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission targeted him for publishing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. That battle spanned two years and cost him $100,000.

And how do Trump's comments about the need to temporarily halt all immigration from Muslim-dominated countries compare with the remarks of the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, who was busy in court at the end of September, asking that charges against him be dropped? In 2014, Wilders told supporters who were chanting for "fewer" Moroccan immigrants, "We'll take care of it." The case is ongoing. Before that, Wilders had been acquitted of insulting Islam in 2011.

There's not much daylight between Trump's remarks and those of his European and Canadian counterparts. The big difference is that in the United States, Trump has no fear of prosecution. And thank Cthulhu for that.

In his defense of a free press, John Milton declared that enough vigorous argumentation between competing views would result in progress: "Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?" It's certainly comforting to think that late-night tweets calling a Venezuelan-born former Miss Universe "disgusting" and urging readers to "check out sex tape and past" are merely Milton's "the dust and cinders of our feet [which] serve to polish and brighten the armoury of Truth."

But I'm not willing to go full Areopagitica here. Enough people hollering at once needn't necessarily bend the arc of the universe toward justice. After all, we fallible creatures could just as easily be led systematically astray by sophists and seditionists.

Yet even if we don't live in a world where the truth will always out, speech restrictions of the kind that are proliferating abroad remain fatally misguided. Attempting to smother ideas only gives them a kind of occult power. This is especially true of bad ideas—such as a 3,000-mile-long two-ply border wall—which benefit from the reduced scrutiny that forbiddenness brings. The last thing we want is to turn Trump into an American Voldemort, a He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Brutally squelching the wrongheaded merely creates an underground where believers with lame tattoos lurk quietly, waiting for a chance to rise again.

Anyone following the American election has already seen this principle in action: The vague perception that someone out there might want to silence him gives Trump an aura of underdoggery and truth-to-powerishness that has proved incredibly powerful at the polls. Every time someone says "hate speech ought to be illegal," a Trumpkin gets his wings. Every threatened lawsuit over hurtful speech only makes The Donald grow stronger. Political correctness is to Trump as clapping is to Tinker Bell.

The best-case scenario for life under hate speech laws is a game of whack-a-mole. Prohibited speech and speakers would pop up here and there, thwarting censors with code words, dog whistles, and new transmission technology. The worst—and more likely—case is a full-on Hydra situation. (Not the quasi-Nazi Hydra from the Marvel movies. The Greek one that grows two heads for every one that's cut off. Though, come to think of it, maybe the Nazi analogy applies too.)

Let's not confuse laws with rules. Just as it is Donald Trump's right to say what he likes about any group to anyone who wants to listen, it is the right of homeowners and barkeeps to maintain any type of private speech code they like on their property. Enforcement should always begin with a polite request to close your pie-hole, but it can and should escalate from there. It should go without saying that when "locker room talk" translates into action, free speech is no longer the relevant concern.

Unfortunately, a Hillary Clinton presidency will prove the perfect breeding ground for a new generation of antibiotic-resistant super-Trumps. As Editor at Large Matt Welch documented in reason's March cover story, Clinton is no friend of free speech and we're likely to move closer to our European brethren if she has her way. Imagine how people who are only grudging Trumpers today will feel after four or eight years of a coked-up regulatory apparatus cracking down not only on so-called hate speech but on all kinds of political speech (see: campaign finance laws), commercial speech (see: Food and Drug Administration restrictions), and scholarly speech (see: state attorneys general subpoenaing global warming denialists).

While trafficking in American exceptionalism is a high-risk rhetorical strategy, the U.S. really does have something going for it that our neighbors lack: the First Amendment, backed by centuries of robust interpretation. In America, it is simply more difficult to have the long arm of the law hold down people like Trump and wash out their mouths with soap and lawsuits.

Every time he says something awful, Donald Trump makes me proud to be an American.

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  1. I sent an email to your editors this summer about the very topic: the restriction of a person’s first amendment rights. There was no response. Since I seek legal counsel, I have no other choice but to try and speak with someone in the media not affiliated with corporate media. Please contact me. My email address is my screen name: snortlilac@icloud.com

    1. Just a theory here, but you should probably be talking to lawyers, not journalists.

  2. That sound you hear in the background is a thousand cocktail party invitations being shredded.

    1. Nah. They are too busy panicking over Hillary sinking like a rock to do that right now. And making empty praises of free speech is okay. Mangu-Ward makes it clear that only ideas acceptable to her Prog peers are acceptable for debate. She just says people who have views outside what is acceptable to prog culture shouldn’t be put in jail, not that they should be given any kind of a fair hearing. She is good.

      1. Very generous interpretation, John. Ever clear-headed.

        1. Red Tony is in fine form.

  3. The big difference is that in the United States, Trump has no fear of prosecution.

    However, that’s only because he’s fabulously wealthy.

    1. “. . . Trump has no fear of prosecution.”

      If only Hillary felt as secure.

      1. Oh, meds are a wonderful thing.

    2. Yeah. D’Nish D’Sousa is on the phone and would like to have a word with Mangu-Ward. Since Reason never said a word about that case, perhaps she doesn’t know about it.

      1. Maybe she forgot about woodchippers as well?

      2. Or James O’Keefe, or David Daleiden, or Mark Steyn, or any other number of NOT liberals that look into their shady activities.

  4. Enjoy it while you can! Once Hillary gets to appoint SCOTUS justices willing to gut the first amendment, hate speech will be an arrestable offense.

    1. HATE SPEECH!!

    2. Isn’t it already an arrestable offense or is it merely a secondary enhancer? Look for more and more words to be added to the category of hate speech as we move closer and closer to newspeak

  5. Yeaaaaaaaah, I see where you’re coming from but don’t ignore the fact that proggies… despite their rampant harping about “tolerance” and “open mindedness”… if given the power, would not fucking hesitate to round up all the Trumps, deplorables, and straight white men that aren’t Ezra Klein, put em on a train, and ship them off to be systematically executed. Most may not explicitly say it but they’re thinking it and they’re enjoying it.

    1. Careful, your tinfoil hat might fall off if you get too excited. That’s how they get you.

      1. It’s not tinfoil if you can microwave it.

    2. ” straight white men that aren’t Ezra Klein, put em on a train,”

      You could tell them that you are not actually white, or a man-that could buy you some time…

      1. If gender is fluid and a matter of how you feel then insist that you are an American Indian woman. It worked for Elizabeth Warren.

    3. Oh I have a title for this film, “Long Night of the Pajama Boys.” Each side has beliefs the other is willing to do them in. The leftists actually have a history of doing so. They just tend to project their inner feeling onto the people who desire to be left alone and enjoy the fruits of their labor. That helps them to rationalize their tendency for culling the herd or sending them to re-education camps.

      How about this one?

      “Pajama Boy Blanket Party”
      “Revenge of the Pajama Boys”

  6. Great article, KMW!

    But “And thank Cthulhu for that (1st A).” You really should thank James Madison. Imagine how limited our rights would be if he hadn’t insisted on spelling out a few? Check A9 and A10 if you have any doubts.

    Madison was our most influential FF – and Dolly could party!

    1. This. The ninth is so thoroughly ignored, its painful to imagine what we would look like (UK if I had to guess) if we didnt explicitly spell out at least some of our rights.

  7. “”””His 2005 hot mic comments about the appropriate way to interact with women, his preferred characterization of Islam, his views on the character of our southern neighbors as well as black citizens here at home have each come up for scrutiny. Trump, in turn, decries political correctness and shrugs “It’s just words, folks.”. “”””

    But there is no effort in seeing if what Trump says is accurate or not, but only if its PC. So Trump is right.

    1. Yeah. The Donkeys misplayed that tape. They should have arranged for their paid accusers to have been complaining for months BEFORE the tape was ‘discovered.’ Then they’d have a shred of credibility.

      1. They released it three weeks too early. But circumstances left them no choice. That tape came out when the Hillary Campaign told NBC to release it. I think they either thought wrongly it could be a kill shot or their internals were going south and felt they had no choice. Either way, they likely wasted it by releasing it that early.

  8. black citizens here at home

    lowercase blacks

  9. Every time he says something awful, Donald Trump makes me proud to be an American.

    Where at least you know you’re free?

    1. And I stand up..to get a drink, brb.

  10. I don’t even find what he says awful. In fact most of what he says is on the cleaner side of what people say all the time. I hear dirtier language on network TV.

    Then there’s the truthful question. I guess we’re supposed to say Muslims are really swell and there’s no relationship between their beliefs and tendencies to explode. While that’s certainly considered polite political discourse I find few people actually carry through with the delusion in real life.

    1. My biggest problem with what Trump says is not the un-PC-ness per se, it’s how unhelpful what he’s saying is to the wider topic and conversation. Calling Mexican immigrants rapists is incredibly inflammatory, PC-dom or not. A significant portion of the population is 1) an immigrant, 2) of Mexican descent, or 3) is aware enough recognize and feel threatened by this type of divisive, racial tinged proclamations. This can be applied to virtually everything he’s said about any particular group so far.

      Trump can be anti-immigrant without saying outrageous things like this. But because he has, he re-frames the entire, probably valid, conversation into a battle of political correctness, rather than a real conversation that should be had.

      1. Except that he was referring to ILLEGAL immigrants from Mexico. Stop obfuscating that.

        ‘Mexican’ is not a race. It’s a nationality. There are Mexicans of all races.

        If WE stopped accepting the narrative as handed to us by propagandists a meaningful conversation about legal AND illegal immigration could be had.

        Until the propagandists stop conflating legal AND illegal immigration, and race and nationality, and criminality and non criminality this cannot happen.

        1. I fail to see the meaningful distinction. Dissecting and parsing what he said in that way is to focus on the leaves in spite of the forest – his intention was clear.

          That’s also part of my point though – Trump is one of the propagandist who is shaping the conversation in a very unhelpful, damaging way. Are you saying we should just ignore what the potential leader of the country has to say on the matter? Maybe we should, but that has its own obvious problems, like why are we ignoring the assumed positions of the potential president.

    2. I’ve always found it odd that “insulting Islam” would be a crime. The Left has such a problem with a corporation being a “person” for legal purposes, but they have no problem with a religion being a “person”?

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  12. The opposite also a very real possibility: the kind of deplorable rhetoric (hate speech) spewed by Trump and his lunatic supporters actually correlates with and leads to an environment where deplorable actions (hate crimes) are expected and normal.

    1. (Please excuse the deplorable Trump-supporterish typo.)

  13. “We’ve allowed this propaganda to spread all through the country that this is a religion of peace.”

    I’m sorry, is the falseness of that narrative really up for debate?

    1. Christianity or Buddhism would more rightly be considered a “religion of peace”. I don’t know of many Muslim martyrs who tamely allowed themselves to be slain for their religious beliefs.

      1. Disagreements over Christianity sparked the largest and most destructive war in European history until the modern age. Christian Africa in the modern context isn’t exactly peaceful fun times either. Buddhists in East Asia have a long history oppressive regimes, and supremacists in Burma stomp on religious minorities any chance they get.

        Only religion that gets as pass is Jainism, because they’re pacifist to the point of stupidity.

    2. Anyone claiming that their religion is super-happy-peace times is lying to you. Unless they’re a Jainist.

      1. Not all supernatural belief systems are created equal. Some are better than others at different times and places. Some have been consistently bad throughout time, some have gotten better over time. Islam ranks at the bottom in all of the aforementioned contexts.

        1. Yeah, I’m going to go and ahead and say the ones that practice human sacrifice were probably worse.

  14. Mangu makes it clear that exclusive thoughts satisfactory to her Prog associates are worthy for level headed discussion. She just says individuals who have sees outside what is adequate to prog culture shouldn’t be placed in prison, not that they ought to be given any sort of a reasonable hearing. She is great.

  15. On the contrary, restrictions on speech gave us Trump. Part of his appeal is his ability to spout every obnoxious brain fart without fear. More intelligent politicians self-censor when they realize that the MSM and their opposition will take what they say out of context and crucify them. Trump’s ignorant and barely literate, but even Reason mag scribblers take what he says out of context and makes him out to be the next Hitler. Trump sticks out his middle finger to the pundits, and that’s why he mopped the floor with everybody else who sought the GOP nomination.

  16. Free speech also gave us Obama. I seriously doubt Trump would be worse.

    1. Obama was the setup for Hillary and Trump.

      After Bush it was hard to imagine someone worse but the candidates of both parties were worse – Obama and McCain. It was hard to imagine someone worse than Obama but once again, we’re presented with two candidates that have the potential to be significantly worse than Obama.

      In 2024 they’ll have to run Kim Jong Un against Bashir Assad to keep their streak going.

  17. I agree with the article. Trump does shoot his mouth off too much. But he did not stand by and let four people get shot and killed.

    Trump is far from perfect but Clinton is totally corrupt. I would rather have someone who says what he thinks, and you know where he stands, than have someone who will only tell you what they think you want to hear.

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  19. Free speech is a great thing FOR bringing us Donald Trump. You prissy pundits are going to surprised on Tuesday when the real people get to speak.

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  21. Asking whether Islam is a religion of peace seems to me a nonsensical question, like asking whether an axe is a tool of peace. It is in most everyone’s hands, but not when it’s held by an axe murderer. I have always felt that God is God, but religion is made by man. Our question should be, “Are Muslims peaceful people?” And the answer, of course, is, “Some are, some aren’t.” It depends on the person holding the axe.
    We can try to distinguish between a peaceful Muslim/Jew/Xtian/Jain and a dangerous one (after much heated argument defining terms and evaluating people), and act upon that distinction. But we need words, labels to tell which group we’re talking about. Fortunately we have one for Islam, “Jihadist”.
    Now we can argue what percentage of (foreign) Muslims are Jihadist, and what we should do about it. Those debates should be sufficiently vitriolic to satisfy everyone.

  22. “And how do Trump’s comments about the need to temporarily halt all immigration from Muslim-dominated countries compare with the remarks of the Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders…?”

    As a libertarian, I have no objections to people coming to the US to work, vacation or visit relatives. What I vehemently object to, however, is amnesty leading to citizenship and the ‘right’ to vote away my rights and those of everyone else. While it is true that most American citizens do not vote libertarian, there is nothing I can do about it as they already have the right to vote. However, amnesty can and should be stopped for those who come from alien cultures and have no understanding of what made this nation prosperous – freedom and property rights.

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