The Left vs. free expression

In the 21st Century, America’s 18th Century foundational freedom of expression is under attack, usually from those who see themselves as progressive, caring, inclusive, and stuffed with Political Correctness.

Former New York Times staffer Bari Weiss. (Photo: Fox News)

On college campuses, the incubator of tender feelings and future leaders, 1 out of 5  believe in prohibitions on free speech, according to a Gallup/Knight Foundation poll released in May 2020.  

Within the 81% who endorse free expression are 78% who endorse “safe spaces” where students can be protected from “threatening” ideas, words or conversations. A growing majority of 78% believes colleges should prohibit racial slurs (a big jump up from 69% in 2016).

Not many of us like racial slurs — which can be hard to define — but they are protected speech, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. While the First Amendment prohibits only government censorship, the intent should be broadly applied: Bad or ugly speech is best countered by good speech,  not by a gag.

In recent weeks, we have learned that gags, perhaps figurative, are being applied by some major publications themselves.

The New York Times op-ed editor Bari Weiss quit her job with a damning letter   to her boss that she shared with the world.

A self-described moderate, Weiss said she was hired by the Times after it was blind-sided by Donald J. Trump’s victory. I remember a surprising post-election mea culpa the paper published, saying it had missed the Trump groundswell and promised to do better. Confession is good for the soul, they say.

Weiss was hired to expose Times’ readers to ideas outside their Leftist bubble. All good.

It did not work. “A new consensus has emerged,” she wrote, “that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to the enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”

Worse than rule by the elite, is rule by the mob heard through Twitter, which has become the Times’ “ultimate editor,” said Weiss. “Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences.”

Because she didn’t join the Groupthink, Weiss wrote that she was bullied. “They have called me a Nazi and a racist.”

Well, I know how that feels.

She claimed to have been attacked openly and on social media by her colleagues, which I find believable, but the important issue isn’t the attack on a colleague, but the attempt to silence a different point of view. Some journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer have complained they are required to present both sides of a story when they don’t believe there are legitimate opposing points of view. 

This is exactly the opposite of what journalists were long taught and long practiced. It is GroupThink, which is antithetical to the exploration of truth.

Weiss’ painful letter resulted in an open letter published in the Leftist Harper’s Magazine, under the headline “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.”  It was signed by more than 150 authors, journalists and academics, from Anne Applebaum to Fareed Zakaria. 

It talked about the “needed reckoning” in racial and social justice, but “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted. While we have come to expect this on the radical right, censoriousness is also spreading more widely in our culture,” meaning the Left, the letter said.

The letter was instantly attacked by other Leftists in The Objective, who took issue with the “privilege” of Harper’s signers, “many of them white, wealthy, and endowed with massive platforms,” but blind to restrictions minorities in the profession experience.

Not only minorities experience “restrictions,” but I’ll let that pass.

As this controversy was brewing, conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan said he was leaving New York magazine. 

Well, maybe he is Conservative Lite.

“In academia, a tiny fraction of professors and administrators have not yet bent the knee to the whole woke program — and those few left are being purged….” and there are even fewer right-wingers at CNN, The New York Times and New York magazIne, Sullivan wrote.

“And maybe it’s worth pointing out that ‘conservative’ in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth… I intend to vote for Joe Biden in November.”

News flash to Sullivan: You are not a conservative.

All of this put me in mind of “The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech,” a book   by liberal columnist Kirstin Powers.

She argues that some on her side, she calls them the illiberal left,  want no part of fair debate and are taking an axe to free speech. 

I gave her credit at that time for breaking ranks with her cohorts, as I applaud Weiss and Sullivan now for blowing the whistle on the people who should be the guardians of free speech, but who instead are guided by ideology and slam shut the gates.

Their moral certainty makes them a danger to democracy. 

17 thoughts on “The Left vs. free expression”

  1. Good Morning.

    In my opinion it’s worse.
    Despite having a wealth of information available, some choose to be like sheep and take a very short and easy path.
    The ability to think critically has been lost!
    Defund police?
    (Not better training).
    Ban rent? Really?
    As a society, we.choose to be uninformed and.stupid!

  2. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu & readers,

    A good overview of the contemporary issue of free speech.

    My sense of the matter is that the “politically correct” left is simply imitating European political modes. Historically, this is an error which America falls into periodically. It goes something like this: “Look at beautiful Europe, all they have accomplished and their wonderful social legislation. Can’t we do the same?” The impressionable tourists want to bring back a piece–as in the famous story of the rich American who bought London bridge, had it taken apart, stone by stone and reassembled in Arizona –as I recall. This imitation only remains plausible for those who forget American history.

    In the ethnically defined societies of Europe, not a great deal needs to be discussed or debated, and this kind of task is generally turned over to a “political class” which does the debating for everyone else. This is sometimes called a “high context” society, because the commonalities of the population often make detailed discussions unnecessary; and their are generally higher levels of trust in the national elites.

    Freedom of speech is so important in the U.S. just because of the variety of our ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. Its a society largely based on immigration and integration. The social and political integration, making “one out of many” (E pluribus unum) proceeds by debating our differences. This is what is known as a “low context” society. The commonalities are less pervasive. In consequence, our politics doesn’t work in the more elitist mode of European national politics. Notice that while mass immigration can go very quickly, social and political integration is a slow and discursive process.

    The attack on the freedom of speech, is literally dis-integrative (and, of course, extremely divisive) for American society; and elite rule, whether of our “enlightened” politicians or of our internet “captains of Industry” or the corporate media simply won’t work here. They have undertaken a vast political experiment which may well have disastrous results for the country. They literally do not know what country, and what sort of country, they are living in.

    H.G. Callaway

  3. Philadelphia health czar on Baseballs return… How can I worry about that when the Federal Government is in a state of Chaos and Ruin? Translated… Orange man bad. My eyes and ears are closed to anything I don’t like. This is the man who controls all Philadelphian’s fates.

  4. And where does one draw the line on ‘hate’ speech? On what the Left calls overt hate speech, as in “I hate spics (or wops, or chinks, etc.)? or do we slide into the swamp of ‘hinted at’ hate speech, such as ‘He’s Jewish, so count your change” or “He’s Italian, so he’s probably tied to the mob,” or “He’s from across the border, so who knows if he’s legal….” Then come the descriptive adjectives that, reducto ad absurdum. probably will soon be actionable: fat, short, stupid, drunk, mean, short-tempered, dishonest, etc. Don’t think free speech isn’t under attack: the Left would LOVE to limit speech like has been done in, say, Canada, where a conservative columnist Mark Steyn was in court for TWO YEARS, defending himself against something he said about someone else that violated Canadian limits on speech. If the Left can’t kill its enemies, it will simply frighten them into silence. Remember Europe in the mid 1930s. If that doesn’t frighten you, you are dense. (Is that description actionable?)

      1. Yeah, but it took him two years to be vindicated, and should never have been brought to court in the first place.

        1. And for further enlightenment, I suggest a look at Canada’s written laws on freedom of speech (found online very easily). For the record, Styne was savaged for his observations on Islam, which he scorned and belittled (especially Islamic actions toward women). The very second a government injects its camel’s nose into the tent of argument about speech and its limits, the camel is on its way to taking over the tent. The camel is already in the tent on most college and university campuses.

  5. HAPPY SUNDAY !!!
    Stu,
    Well written and timed perfectly. The world is in a chaos. This time we blame a virus. The States are disrupted by politics. No surprise there.
    What amazes me is our constitution. Over the years, I have read it several times and always by choice. It should be part of the curriculum by the eight grade classes, if not before. I ask my self. Where these founding fathers really earthlings ? In today’s’ world, that piece of high intelligence would not/could not be written . They “debated” thoughts and created words. How could that much intelligence be gathered together with a common cause? Putting it into perspective. With the population of Philly, we have a city council. Dare I say more ?
    Yes fellow Americans. We are now awake ( woke ) to the problems of our society. We have been sweeping those problems under the proverbial rug for 50 years. We must now face the enemy. The enemy is us.
    Tony

  6. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Clark & readers

    —you asked—
    Over the years, I have read [the constitution] several times and always by choice. It should be part of the curriculum by the eight grade classes, if not before. I ask my self. Where these founding fathers really earthlings ? In today’s’ world, that piece of high intelligence would not/could not be written. They “debated” thoughts and created words. How could that much intelligence be gathered together with a common cause? Putting it into perspective. With the population of Philly, we have a city council. Dare I say more ?
    —end quotation

    Part of the answer is that the country was, literally formed by the constitution and the law arising from it. From that perspective, one may certainly question the notion that we can now, after several centuries, simply “re-form” it –based on mass conformity to elite opinion and corporate media control of “public opinion.” Secondly, the founders were almost all lawyers; and they worked in connection with the colonial legislatures. The impositions of George III effected their power and influence directly. How many lawyers these days work for giant corporations?

    Another part of the answer is that the plan of the constitution, including its amendments, was focused on freedom, aiming for “ordered freedom;” and that turned out very suitable for a country formed by means of immigration and integration. But this will only make sense if the policy premiums are placed on integration –or what it means to be an American. It is dis-integrative to reward cultural difference and diversity for its own sake.

    Europeans typically do not understand the point and have no sympathy with it. Notice that even the British, who we most resemble in Europe, maintain a system of ethnically defined sub-polities: England, Wales, Scotland and N. Ireland. That, of course, has counted as liberal by comparison with the traditional continental systems (or conservative ideal) of “one people, one language, one religion.” The ethnic sub-polities works for the British in part because the English outnumber the Scots about 10 to 1, and the other sub-polities are even smaller than Scotland. The Europeans are addicted to their ethnic politics and they try to export it. They simply see it as “natural” and inevitable. Notice also the prominence of ethnic sub-polities in Canada –which derives from the ancient British model.

    You are right, though, the “enemy is us” –imitating prestigious, foreign political models.

    H.G. Callaway

  7. HAPPY SUNDAY !!!
    How refreshing ( sic ), to get caught in the rain, while riding a lawn mower.
    H,
    First Vince’s question. I believe that you are from the world of education. Certainly not Law. Lawyers insists on prefixes. Mr, Mrs, Ms……
    You are the philosophical one, though. You have your views and you gladly share them with us mere mortals. I, obviously, disagree with much that you say.
    Rhetorically, I asked the questions. And yes, I am right.
    True, many of the founding fathers were lawyers. Think about that for a moment. Were they corner hacks are actually barristers ? Certainly, some were beyond belief. Regardless of their learnings, they as a group, team, ( dare I say )Congress put together laws that have stood the test of time. Yes, there are amendments. BUT ! none of their work has been removed from the constitution.
    You made mention of the British Empire, although you chose not to use that title. Of course the conquered lands are smaller that England. How else would they be conquered. And more so, today, one can not be using words such as conquer, rule, enslave, etc.
    Europe. Until recent years. WW II comes to mind. When you said a country – Italy, you had Italians. Germany – Germans. And so forth, right through Europe and Eurasia until the wars. Then the middle east blew up and all of those refugees had to go somewhere. Having said that. Most countries, as we know, all had one tongue , one religion and one royal family or government. Most definitely, one ruling class in all countries. Not so anymore. We here in America, started out just a bit different. We amuse ourselves with royalty, but don’t want it here. We saw how the rest of the world was, both people and places, and decided that we would be different. Because no one really took the time to explain Europe to us Americans, or vice-versa, we remain different, as we scratch our heads and wonder about how can they live like that ? Them as us, us as them. Never. We can never go back to what we never had and certainly don’t want. “nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there” comes to mind.
    Tony

  8. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Clark & readers,

    I suspect that you are not aware of the extent of the American elite’s admiration of European political models. Go up and ask the folks at Harvard. I am not saying that every-day Americans admire them. Quite the contrary. Just consider the decades-long efforts toward a national health-care system –the political effort to move away from the employer-sponsored system of health insurance. Or, consider the admiration in politics, in the universities, and the corporate media for ever finer development of “identity politics.” Of course, if we all remained “safely” within our distinctive identity groups, then there would be no need to debate our differences, and the chief decisions could be left to the business and government elites. The fight against freedom of speech is a fight against full popular involvement in political debates. Or consider how little attention there has been to the growth of economic inequalities over the last generation. Every issue of inequality is cast in racial or ethnic terms. This is no skin off the (economic) elite noses.

    Were the founders geniuses? Well, of course they were. My point was simply that they were our geniuses: the constitution and the law have formed not only the way we think but also deeply affected our attitudes and habits. These are “habits of the heart,” and correspondingly very difficult to change. I would like to see more skepticism of European political models. Europe is, so far, holding itself together–in spite of Brexit and in spite of Putin’s antagonism to the European project. But how much of this is premised on continued American military support? How much do they borrow from U.S. sources, while often enough biting the hand? As ethnic uniformity increases in a society so does jealousy and the tendency toward rigid class structures. That is a traditional European problem –which we are now emulating?

    BTW: I was foolish enough to avoid the “ESQ,” in favor of the “Ph.D.”

    H.G. Callaway

    1. Dear Callaway,
      I’m curious as to why you address the blogger as “Stu, and the the rest of us by our surname, without prefix. Somewhat rude coming from a “PH.D”. Is this how you addressed your students ? All through Catholic school, it was Mr. Clark. We responded in kind. Sir, Ma’m, Sister, Father, Brother, Mr.. In the military, our first name is seaman, general, admiral followed by the surname.
      I am aware of your meanderings and admiration of Europe. What I am trying to say, in a short space, is that we have an excellent piece of paper called the constitution. Through old fashion greed and corruption, the so called elites make money off of all of our backs. Including the backs of professors. The powers to be, commonly known as low-lifes, don’t care about the color of your skin, your ethnicity nor your profession. They do and will continue to get rich as they buy their way through life. Take a look at so called higher education, for example. Why does an undergraduate degree in a good school ( Drexel, for example ) cost $60 K per year. Why is graduate school so expensive ? In a sort sentence. “Because they can “. No one stops them or challenges them. Speaking of challenge. Fox wanted to take part of Fairmont Park, giving them room to expand. The city was in agreement. The “Friends of the Wisahickon”, “Pennypack” and every other volunteer organization tried to fight it. When it was brought to my attention, I suggested a law firm. Bottom line. With the help of Pro Bono, a prominent senior partner of this law firm CRUSHED Fox and the City of Philadelphia. “the park is not yours to sell nor give away. Period”. The point of my wanderings, is that with some knowledge and wisdom, a challenge can be made. That same challenge will win when knowledge supersedes all else.
      For at least the last 50 years, this has been the case. Hopefully, when we Drain The Swamp, things will show improvement.
      Tony

  9. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Clark & readers,

    So, you want to “drain the swamp”? Well, you have some good intentions, and maybe some success. Still, its a mighty big swamp.

    Good luck with it. I agree entirely, with what you say below. Notice that most of our legislators are lawyers. (There is, of course, some constitutional grounds for that.)

    H.G. Callaway

    You wrote:
    Through old fashion greed and corruption, the so called elites make money off of all of our backs. Including the backs of professors. The powers to be, commonly known as low-lifes, don’t care about the color of your skin, your ethnicity nor your profession. They do and will continue to get rich as they buy their way through life. Take a look at so called higher education, for example. Why does an undergraduate degree in a good school ( Drexel, for example ) cost $60 K per year. Why is graduate school so expensive ? In a sort sentence. “Because they can “. No one stops them or challenges them.
    —End quotation

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