- - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Free speech, of blessed memory, which survived one civil and two world wars, perished this year, unable to prevail against sustained attacks from the left and right. The death knell came when its heretofore stalwart defender — the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — in several of its forms, decided to abandon or “clarify” its position, ending years of acting on the principle that free speech was sacrosanct.

The cause of death was insufficient popular respect for free speech and knowledge that for freedom and liberty to prevail, free speech must be defended.

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has instructed his readers over and over again to think of the mainstream media as Democrat operatives with bylines. That deserved reputation has coarsened Republicans’ attitudes towards the press, diminishing respect for the institution and the free speech rights that make the press’s existence possible. How many times do you need to see your side, your people and your culture misrepresented and lied about before you say a pox on all their houses?

Forty-five percent of Trump voters, according to a recent YouGov/Economist poll, favor shutting down media outlets for publishing stories that are biased or inaccurate. The same group reports that Republicans and Democrats alike would do what our laws and constitution specifically disallow: engage in viewpoint discrimination. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans polled would legally prohibit a neo-Nazi from speaking publicly.

While much of the political left has been historically hostile to free speech in favor of narrative, those forces were kept in check by the minence grise of civil rights organizations, the ACLU. Made famous in their 1977 defense of neo-Nazis’ right to speak in Skokie, Illinois, they held the line. No longer. One wonders if they decided unannounced that people can be free without free speech, or that they have given up on freedom generally.

Silent about free speech activists left by authorities to be beaten by violent mobs in Berkeley, in 2017 the ACLU turned their limited attention and resources to foreign citizens temporarily banned from traveling here. No wonder, as reports indicate they made more money stoking outrage over President Trump’s travel ban in one weekend than they did in all their fundraising for 2016. In the age of virtue signaling through social media, it just doesn’t pay to favor freedom anymore.

It is tragic, not just for the lack of moral signaling to a core audience of standard-bearers for the culture, but because the courts, where the ACLU plies its trade, have been at the highest levels sympathetic to pro-speech positions. There will be other advocates for the cause, but the courts offer only cold comfort for free speech — they serve as a lagging indicator of where society is. Because of the age and experience required for justices, they hardly represent the vanguard of jurisprudence. The leading indicator is what is being taught and learned at our institutions of higher learning, and that is poison for free speech.

In 1991, Dinesh D’Souza’s book “Illiberal Education” exposed the capture of the academy by the radical left and their rabid intolerance of incorrect thinking. There was not a sufficient reaction to stem the tide. Perhaps the most famous early example of the political correctness rot was when in 1993, the University of Pennsylvania decided to punish a freshman Orthodox Jewish student for calling a group of screaming, stomping black women “water buffalo.” Despite the fact that not one scintilla of evidence was presented that the comment was motivated by race or animated by bias, the university prosecuted the student under its judicial system for months, until the women dropped their complaint.

At the time, after calling the charges “questionable semantics, dubious zoology, and incorrect geography,” NBC anchor John Chancellor said “[t]he language police are at work on the campuses of our better schools. The word cops are marching under the banner of political correctness. The culture of victimization is hunting for quarry. American English is in danger of losing its muscle and energy. That’s what these bozos are doing to us.” Can you imagine Lester Holt issuing a similar defense of speech?

The hostility to speech on campus has proceeded apace since then, to its denouement when journalism professor Melissa Click shouted for physical violence to be used to prevent a student from reporting at the Mizzou protests. From these halls, our future justices will issue, and they will not be steeped in respect for voices speaking against officially approved messages.

President Trump, who has shown contempt for the press, if not their rights, has failed to move a muscle in defense of free speech. Like the Democrat mayors of San Jose, Berkeley and Charlottesville, President Trump refuses to do what any president with reverence and respect for free speech must — direct federal authorities to a full court press against those who infringe on the speech rights of others. Were the police in those cities told to stand down? Well, something happened. It is uncommon and profoundly disturbing to see police officers standing on public streets witnessing violent felonies a few feet in front of them while they do nothing.

That’s a harbinger of the future of speech in America. If it’s illegal to say it, surely it can’t be too long before it is illegal to think it. Ever-increasing government involvement in ideas and their dissemination (or lack thereof) is the Ghost of Christmas Future.

Scott D. Cosenza is Policy Director at One Generation Away. He can be reached at [email protected]

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