Did you see the Super Bowl ad about Mexican avocados? The Coke commercial? Budweiser's mini-bio of its immigrant founder? Was corporate America trolling Donald Trump with ads that celebrated free trade, diversity, and immigration? Or were they just selling products to people perhaps more sensitive to gleaning political messages than they have been before? Do you want the government to decide that?
Breitbart commenters, among other Trump loyalists, have been concerned about political ads at the Super Bowl since last week, when the Budweiser ad hit the news cycle. Fox initially rejected one ad from a lumber company that featured a long journey to a border wall, and a big beautiful door, although the beginning of the ad, from Lumber 84, did air—the whole thing was put online. Nevertheless, there was no paucity of ads from which viewers gleaned political messages. And that's a good thing—despite the heated rhetoric against Citizens United and corporate speech rights during the 2016 election, the Super Bowl ads and the discussions they're inevitably launching are an illustration of why protecting free speech rights from government regulation is important, even for corporations. Free expression is a crucial component of a free society and a healthy democracy, and sustains a marketplace of ideas. The notion that government interference can have anything but a deleterious effect is ridiculous—it shouldn't have to take a character like Trump to head the government for people to realize that; there have been enough examples of what supposedly well-intended regulations have done.
Tonight's ads reflected the American population—companies, unlike governments, have to offer people something they want or they won't get their money, so they are far better at delivering to and so reflecting the many moods of the American people. The inevitable complaints, even the boycotts, are part of that too, and it's all part of a process of self-regulating speech, where ideas, ideally, rise and fall on their merits, where individuals get to argue about the meaning of things instead of having government decide. Only through open discussions, unfettered by the coercions of a government inevitably interested in protecting itself and its narrow interests, can better ideas develop and thrive.
Both Trump and his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, who courageously stood up against Citizens United, which ruled in favor of free speech that was critical of her, have abysmal records on free speech. But perhaps 2017 will make more free speech fans out of people sometimes too quick to take their leaders' words on it.
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