The lies we were told about who would silence free speech
The lie we were told as kids was this: The end of American liberty would come at the hands of the political right.
Conservatives would take away our right to speak our minds, and use the power of government to silence dissent. The right would intimidate our teachers and professors, and coerce the young.
And then, with the universities in thrall, with control of the apparatus of the state (and the education bureaucracy), the right would have dominion over a once-free people.
Some of us were taught this in school. Others, who couldn’t be bothered to read books, were fed a cartoon version of the diabolical conservative in endless movies and TV shows. The most entertaining of these were science fiction, sometimes with vague references to men in brown shirts and black boots goose-stepping in some future time.
Women would become handmaids, subjugated and turned into breeders. And men would be broken as well. The more lurid fantasies offered armies of Luddites in hooded robes, hunting down subversives for the greater good.
But the lie is obvious now, isn’t it?
Because it is not conservatives who coerced today’s young people or made them afraid of ideas that challenge them. Conservatives did not shame people into silence, or send thugs out on college campuses to beat down those who wanted to speak.
The left did all that.
It’s there in front of you, the thuggish mobs of the left killing free speech at American universities. The thugs call themselves antifas, for anti-fascists.
They beat people up and break things and set fires and intimidate. These are not anti-fascists. These are fascists. This is what fascists do.
Some wear masks to cover their faces, or hide bike locks in scarves and swing them at the heads of any who disagree. They’re all about intimidation. And intimidation on a national scale, so angry and violent, is a fascist thing of the left.
Many liberals — journalists, senators, television comedians and others — are properly appalled at what their political children, born of the hard left, have done. Many liberals have warned about this, and so many must wince as the fruits of their labor turn bitter in their mouths.
But they are also complicit, because they’ve taken advantage of the anger and energy of this hard-left fascism to leverage their own politics. And Democratic operatives still hope to use this emotional frenzy and muscle for political gain in the next elections.
What is the cost for all this?
Free speech, without which there is no republic.
American universities were once thought to be the last great refuge of ideas, where ideas could flourish and be challenged and debated. But today, the university is the place where liberty and ideas go to die.
The American university is where intellectuals with dissenting views are silenced — even physically assaulted — by mobs. And administrators sit by and watch, afraid to anger those mobs.
What has been the general liberal response to Americans who insist on speaking after being threatened?
Annoyance. The response sounds like this: Hush. Go away. Come back later when it’s quiet. Why cause trouble? Shhh.
Right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter has been silenced at Berkeley, where the free speech movement was born. And other intellectuals, including Charles Murray and Heather Mac Donald, have been silenced at other colleges, attacked by mobs.
If the left agrees with your views, you may speak. If the left doesn’t agree, they will shut you down. This is America now.
Some liberals also have seen their careers ruined by mob rule. Those two professors at Yale, a husband and wife, come to mind. She told Yale students not to worry if some other student wore a sombrero as a Halloween costume, that there were more important things to worry about than political correctness and a student wearing a sombrero.
But a Yale student, a woman, a minority, screamed in response, weeping in hideous self-indulgent theatrics captured on video. And all of this caught fire on the internet and sparked the virtual mob on social media. The professors, the husband and wife, with decent records and obvious care for the intellectual development of their students, were shamed out of Yale.
And all educators across the country took note.
University administrators have made a show of wringing their hands. But they’re hypocrites. They’re part of this. They are of the same cloth. They allowed this seed to bloom. They watered it, by giving in to the young who demanded a safe space from intellectual challenge.
Safe spaces are not about learning or critical thinking. Safe spaces belong to education camps, where future bureaucrats are trained in the Orwellian shaping of language and the culling of threatening ideas.
The universities molded the federal education bureaucracy, which turned out teachers that shaped the minds of American children. And some of those children are in college now.
Surveys suggest that many young Americans think the First Amendment should be amended so as to not allow offensive speech. So the students have learned their lessons well.
All speech challenging the status quo is offensive — to the establishment. And free speech is what American liberty is about.
Unless, of course, you’re of the hard left, and can hunt free speech at American universities and crush it.
That’s not fiction. That’s not fantasy. And it is not a lie. It’s happening now, in the United States.
John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His Twitter handle is @john_kass.