4 Things That Pissed Us Off in 2017
If you like to rage, 2017 was the year for you. There was so much to be pissed off about and Reason was there every step of the way to chronicle what actually mattered.
1. The assault on free speech
No matter which major party presidential candidate was going to win the election last year, 2017 was going to be a bad year for free speech—both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton demonstrated a hearty disdain for it.
Since his inauguration, president Trump has reveled in needling the press and its "fake news." Many in the press have reacted with the kind of sloppy, mistake-laden work that has helped justify his criticism.
Trump's October tweet asking of NBC, "at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License," was nothing out of the ordinary for Trump, but acting on it might have actually violated the First Amendment, crossing a line from a complaint to government action.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai responded to calls to review the licenses of cable news network before Trump himself tweeted about it. "Setting aside the fact that the FCC doesn't license cable channels," Pai said, "these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions."
Trump continued an ignominious tradition of assaulting the First Amendment from the White House (his predecessor prosecuted more government whistleblowers than all his predecessors combined), but free speech also got short shrift in some surprising places.
More than 200 staffers at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization dedicated to protecting constitutional rights, signed an open letter decrying the group's First Amendment absolutism. "Our broader mission—which includes advancing the racial justice guarantees in the Constitution and elsewhere, not just the First Amendment—continues to be undermined by our rigid stance," the letter read.
Then there were the students affiliated with Black Lives Matter who shut down an ACLU-sponsored free speech event at the College of William & Mary because "liberalism is white supremacy." Apparently lost on the students was that the police officers they protest against would be responsible for enforcing hate speech laws.
That is not a theoretical point—hate crimes laws pushed by progressives are now being used to establish "blue lives matter" provisions that enhance sentences for crimes against cops if you say something mean to them. Louisiana already added police officers to the list of people who can be victims of hate crimes, and there's an effort to do the same on the federal level.
There's also the now-fashionable non-argument that because Nazis claim to be for free speech (anyone who takes them at face value is not a critical thinker), supporting free speech means supporting Nazism. The proposition is as preposterous as the suggestion that advocating for the constitutional rights of accused criminals means supporting criminals. Just because an argument is preposterous, unfortunately, doesn't mean it can't be popular, so vigilance about free speech will remain important.
2. The war on "sex trafficking"
As much a failure as the war on drugs has been, and despite its increasing unpopularity, not only is the federal government not winding that war down, it's declaring new ones it can't possibly win.
Take the escalation of the war on so-called "sex trafficking." Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has been at the forefront of reporting on this disturbing new trend.
Brown predicted it in a Reason magazine cover story two years ago, concluding that the results would be disastrous for "perpetrators" and "victims" alike. She was absolutely right. Government agencies have enthusiastically embraced the same failed strategies of the war on drugs to fight a "sex trafficking" threat they have severely overblown.
A pair of bills passed by Congress and signed into law earlier this year while most people were obsessed over whatever the outrage-of-the-week was that week, significantly expanded federal law enforcement powers.
Specifically, the FBI, ICE, and local and state police are allowed to wiretap suspected sex workers or their associates, along with any "consenting adults on any side of a commercial sexual exchange".
The bills also called for a national strategy to suppress demand for prostitution, to treat the sex trade as "gender-based violence," as well as expanding the definition of a gang to include groups of five or more sex workers traveling together, among other provisions Brown reported on.
3. Everything about Jeff Sessions
America's 84th attorney general is a true throwback to shitty times. Sessions still believes in the kind of "law and order" nonsense that's largely been debunked over the last two decades—and is committed to using the Department of Justice as a cudgel.
Sessions' master plan for dealing with an opioid crisis that's gained increased news attention in 2017 is to escalate the failing war on drugs. He revived a federal asset forfeiture program that made it easier for local agencies to seize property. He wants to maximize penalties for drug offenders. He ordered a review of all consent decrees, DOJ agreements with local police agencies on reform and oversight.
Sessions recruited local police to assist in immigration enforcement. He pushes the myth that marijuana is a "gateway drug." He continues to fearmonger about crime despite historically low, and declining, rates. He backed Trump's decision to resume sending military equipment to local police. He's tripled the number of investigations into leakers. He wants to bring back DARE.
And the worst part is, if Trump fires Sessions, it'll fuel…
4. The Trump-Russia obsession
No review of 2017 outrage would be complete without the hysteria over potential Trump-Russia collusion.
Democrats have developed many of the conspiracy theories, but it isn't all their fault. Trump spent a good chunk of 2017 making things worse. Terminating FBI Director James Comey, and Trump's subsequent statements about it, helped lead to the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Trump-Russia collusion.
This has created the perception that there's something wrong with talking to Russia. Better relations with Russia should be welcomed, not feared. The prevailing anti-Russia mood in Washington makes this very difficult, encouraging the Trump administration to escalate the counterproductive, antagonistic policies of the Obama administration.
This has also led, unaccountably, to efforts to lionize the FBI as a friend of liberty and justice, a task belied by its long history. That has opened the door to the censorship of online speech in the guise of ferreting out enemies of the state, bringing us full circle and bringing us little comfort heading into 2018.