2018

7 June 2017: First Amendment under attack

Those pesky reporters. Delving, digging, and snooping. Asking embarrassingly tough questions politicos spend time and exert considerable energy avoiding. What’s a Trump-fearing/loving, all-guy politician to do? Why, body slam the reporter, that’s what.

Then, there are those crazy rightwing provocateurs trying to speak on campuses. I swear. Enough to drive a fire-breathing, sanctimonious, faux intellectual leftie to smash windows after shouting down, threatening, and, at times, assaulting the guest and his/her host. Maybe he/she should’ve toked a joint before launching a rampage. Just a thought.

Good grief! Where’s the love for the First Amendment? On the right, assault with the intent to intimidate the press and to deny the public its right to know. On the left, denying the right of speech to those with whom they disagree.

It’s not a battle between opposing points of view, but war on the First Amendment itself. It’s war on the whole notion of a liberal democracy dependent upon a free exchange of ideas to prevent fascism from taking root.

Correct thinking. That’s how it began nearly a century ago in Germany, then the most educated people. Of course, that aspect is not something we need to be concerned about. We’re far from the most educated as witnessed by several standards including masses, led by the tweeter-in-chief, busy blissfully tweeting stupidity.

Fascists bully. Their words are intended not just to hurt, but to intimidate, shame, and repress. The irony is, though, attempts to suppress fascist thinking is fascism in reverse. Repressing distasteful words or ideas inimical to one’s belief is not just destructive to the body politic, it’s also an integral aspect of fascism.

Goons and bullies, both physical and intellectual, roam the extremes of the political divide, empowered by their fellows who turn a blind eye to the excesses of their ideological brethren, frozen into inaction out of fear they will in turn be targeted for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

The enemy. Those with whom we disagree on politics, economic policy, health care, race, gender, etcetera and so on are not enemies. They are, rather, intellectual adversaries. Granted, they might be considered tawdry sorts, but, unless and until they act to repress others’ rights, they should be seen as fellow humans guilty, in our minds, of making poor choices, exercising faulty reasoning, or going off their rockers. Of course, they would see us in similar fashion.

Over the past 30 years, we have personalized ideas and that has led to where we are today: the politics of personal destruction. We conflate the person holding the idea with the idea itself. Therefore, rather than saying one’s ideas are harebrained, we say he/she is harebrained. We don’t have thoughts; we are our thoughts. Really?

Teachable moment. That is what this column is about. I have said from the time when I began writing for the Courant 14 years ago my goal is not to persuade but to offer something to think about. I prefer to think readers sophisticated enough to be able to read my writing are sophisticated enough to draw their own conclusions.

The left has invented the term cultural appropriation, which the Oxford dictionary defines as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

In the end, albeit well-intentioned, cultural appropriation is a process of appropriating others’ rights to expression that results in exclusion.

As an educator, I reject that notion. A primary purpose of education is to open the mind, for when a mind is opened, bigotry subsides and ultimately dissipates.

As a civil libertarian, I reject that notion. The First Amendment encapsulates our fundamental, sacred values. Shutting down the flow of ideas and information strikes at the heart of what we should stand for.

One can only hope we’re at the nadir of this anti-intellectual age, for it we are not, the future portends a dire landscape, an antithesis of the Jeffersonian ideal of an informed, educated, and debating citizenry engendered by universal public education and a firm adherence to the Bill of Rights’ first and primary protections. Should we continue on this trajectory, a fascist America awaits.

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