Polling from YouGov this week shows 45 percent of Republicans support letting courts shut down “news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate.” Only 18 percent of Democrats favor this. Worse, only 33 percent of Republicans recognize that “fining news media outlets for publishing or broadcasting stories that are biased or inaccurate would violate the First Amendment.” Of course, only 45 percent of Democrats think that. Democrats took this as proof Republicans are becoming totalitarian.
What Democrats have let go unnoticed is their own creeping totalitarianism. In 2015, YouGov asked people if they “think the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as it is currently written does or does not allow people to make public comments intended to stir up hatred against a group based on such things as their race, gender, religion, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation?” Then, 64 percent of Republicans recognized the first amendment allows it, but only 48 percent of Democrats recognized it.
More troubling, though 48 percent of Democrats recognized the first amendment allows people to stir up hatred, 51 percent of them favored making it a crime to do so. In other words, 51 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans want to allow the government to take actions that violate the first amendment. What’s worse, close to a majority of both parties know these actions would violate the constitution and they do not care.
They do not care because their party loyalty trumps the rule of law. The most fascinating bit of data from YouGov is that Democrats were far more willing to curtail the first amendment when their party controlled the White House while the Republicans were, naturally, more opposed. Now that party control is reversed, so too are the parties’ opinions of the first amendment. Respecting the constitution based on whether your party controls the White House is a dangerous thing.
The most readily apparent example is on college campuses, which are increasingly hostile to any viewpoint that disagrees with leftwing secular orthodoxy. Conservatives can be frog marched from campuses and speeches disrupted by a combination of tenured professors and students unwilling to encounter ideas or thoughts that might unsettle them. Too many Democrats dismiss this phenomenon when it should be deeply unsettling to everyone that many of the up and coming workers and leaders in this country have no problem silencing anyone and any idea they disagree with.
Unfortunately, where we should have responsible leaders reining in this totalitarianism, both parties are capitalizing on it. In left of center states, Christian bakers, florists and photographers are being put out of business for not providing goods and services to same sex weddings. Pharmacists and doctors are being punished for being unwilling to provide abortifacient drugs. In Washington, the President of the United States has urged his supporters to punch their political opponents while the so-called Resistance is smashing windows and burning coffee shops.
This is all a manifestation of the decline of Christianity in America. Though many Americans still call themselves Christian, it is closer in equivalence to how Jewish has become an ethnic moniker than an indication of a religious belief. When Americans abandon actual belief in a real creator, they turn to the “grand Sez Who.”
Law professor and philosopher Arthur Leff put it this way: “When would it be impermissible to make the formal intellectual equivalent of what is know in barrooms and schoolyards as ‘the grand Sez Who?’ In the absence of God…each…ethical and legal system…will be differentiated by the answer it chooses to give to one key question: who among us…ought to be able to declare ‘law’ that ought to be obeyed? Stated that baldly, the question is so intellectually unsettling that one would expect to find a noticeable number of legal and ethical thinkers trying not to come to grips with it…Either God exists or He does not, but if He does not, nothing and no one else can take His place.”
As God becomes a quaint notion, Americans of all ideologies increasingly think their tribe gets to declare the law and the loser, beyond the concept of the rule of law, is always the law abiding citizen.
Erick Erickson is a nationaly syndicated columnist.