The politicization of free speech
Eddie Damstra | Thursday, September 13, 2018
Outside of freedom of religion, there may be no right or political principle more central to the identity of America than that of freedom of speech. The recognition of one’s right to freedom of speech has conventionally been viewed as an ideal that unites Americans. Unfortunately, I believe this is changing. It seems that freedom of speech is increasingly being perceived not as a fundamental American ideal, but rather an auxiliary component of conservatism or of the Republican Party. What was once one of the most uniting forces in America seems to have succumbed to the tragedy of politicization.
In contemporary America, the phrase “freedom of speech” brings to mind controversies on college campuses, with conservative speakers such as Ben Shapiro being met with protests when coming to give lectures. Ultimately, the simple utterance of a right once thought to be the epitome of the American experiment now conjures up pictures of conflict between opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Just a few months ago, the New York Times published a piece titled “How Conservatives Weaponized the First Amendment.” The fact that such a piece was published by a mainstream media outlet perfectly highlights the politicization of freedom of speech that I am speaking of. Freedom of speech is now being associated with conservatism, not America more broadly. In being associated with a particular ideology, freedom of speech is quickly becoming an object of bitter conflict and divisiveness.
This trend of politicizing freedom of speech is extremely dangerous. In order for a nation to function, certain core values must be universally understood and appreciated. Politicizing freedom of speech to the point where it is essentially another item in the realm of political debate jeopardizes the very existence of freedom of speech and, consequently, threatens the existence of the American identity as it is currently understood. America cannot survive if freedom of speech becomes an ideal revered by one ideological faction and not fully appreciated by the opposite faction.
I believe the left is largely to blame for this politicization of freedom of speech. Many progressives have prioritized blind allegiance to political correctness and pursuit of a faulty notion of tolerance over the value of the First Amendment. Unfortunately, some on the right have responded to this by endorsing provocation for provocation’s sake. By promoting speakers like Milo Yiannopoulos, many on the far right of the spectrum gave a voice to despicable individuals merely for the sake of instigating controversy. This has only further ignited the tension around the First Amendment between those of differing political persuasions.
Freedom of speech should not be politicized. Rather, freedom of speech should be a central value that all Americans recognize as fundamental to the human condition. In a time when politics seemingly enters every arena of life, we cannot let politics corrupt the core principles that form the very fabric of this great nation. The left must abandon its distaste for the First Amendment. Reasonable conservatives must remain resilient and responsible in continuing to defend and demonstrate the importance of the First Amendment. Those on the far right have to halt their reckless commitment to trolling, which only serves to further worsen the conflict over freedom of speech. Ultimately, in these polarizing times, all Americans should seek solace in uniting behind a common recognition and appreciation of freedom of speech.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.