Friday, March 11, 2016

Chicago, Free Speech, and the Silencing of the Trump Campaign Event

There will be those among you reading this who may be celebrating the cancellation of the appearance by candidate Donald J. Trump, which had been scheduled for this evening at the University of Illinois at Chicago Pavilion.  This is unfortunate, and it does not bode well for the future of this country.  Please allow me to tell you my reasons for making such a statement.  There are, as well, some of you who are celebrating who have made the accusation that Mr. Trump is little more than a fascist, even going so far as to equate him as being on a par with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.  You are wrong; and I have replied to some of you, on another forum, by asking, "Where are Mr. Trump's Brown Shirts?"  That is not an idle question, and the silencing of his speech tonight may mark a step in a direction I know none of us wants to see our country take, but which may be taking place all the same, unless things change.  Again, please allow me to elaborate.

Those of you who know me know that I "came of age" politically during the late 1960's and early 1970's, as part of the time when the struggle for Civil Rights was taking place, and especially during the protests against the war in Vietnam.  I voted for the first time in the presidential election of 1972 for Senator George McGovern, who lost in a landslide to President Richard M. Nixon. Four years later, I voted for the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party, Peter Camejo, who was later the Green Party candidate for governor in California, and, in 2004, was Ralph Nader's vice-presidential running mate in his independent bid for election as President.  I mention all of this simply as a way of saying that I am no stranger to the politics of protest, to the need for free speech, and for a desire to reform our society for the better.  That my personal political position has moved toward the center is more the result of my recognition that genuine change cannot truly be accomplished by imposition from without; it must be the result of an inner regeneration, by the laying aside of who we were before and by being renewed in the spirit of our mind, as St. Paul writes to the Church in Ephesus.  Put another way, you cannot legislate morality; at least, not to the depths of one's being.

Civil society rests upon civility: upon respect for the other person, even when we disagree.  Once upon a time, and that not so very long ago, this went without saying.  Across the political spectrum, there was an almost-universally shared respect for the rights accorded by the Constitution, including the right to the freedom of speech accorded by the First Amendment.  In a quotation sometimes attributed to Voltaire, to Patrick Henry, and to Evelyn Beatrice Hall, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," we expressed something that approached the sacred in political discourse: the right to be allowed to speak our mind, even in the face of opposition, even when the message was massively unpopular.  Indeed, sometimes the more unpopular the message, the more important it was to express it - at least, that's how it seemed to its proponents.  Even when protests were met with counter-protests, there was an expectation of civility, and that the law was meant to protect both sides of the argument - both sides had a right to be heard. There were exceptions; there are always exceptions - but it was unthinkable to "infiltrate" a rally being held by one side by opponents with the express purpose of disrupting the event, with the goal of effectively silencing those whose point of view was one with which we disagreed.  We might be noisy and disruptive outside; we might silently protest inside; but it was a "given" that those who acted disruptively to silence the speaker or speakers with whom we disagreed could just as easily do the same to us; and how could we know how to refute their arguments if they were not given the opportunity to state their case?  Alas, the silencing of Mr.Trump at the rally tonight, as was the case earlier in the campaign season when "activists" from the "Black Lives Matter" organization disrupted a rally for candidate Bernie Sanders, ultimately preventing him from addressing his supporters, shows that the earlier civility is no longer operative in the political arena today.  That is, as I have said, unfortunate, and does not bode well for us as a country.  How can we reason together and find a way forward together if we cannot state our positions to each other?  We have to be willing to listen to each other, even if we do not agree.

If that was all, however, I probably wouldn't be writing at this time.  Far more troubling, although definitely related, is the reality that the disruption achieved at the Trump event tonight is due, in part, to the efforts of organizations opposed to the candidacy of Mr. Trump to deliberately and intentionally disrupt the event. These include paid "community organizers" on the left - I won't dignify their organizations by naming names, but if you pay any attention at all, you don't need me to point them out for you - and it is part of my duty to point out just how dangerous this activity can be for us as a society and people.  Remember my question earlier, "Where are the Brown Shirts?"  As I was back then, I have continued to be a student of history, something many of you, my fellow Americans, either have forgotten or were never really taught.  As such, you might not know how the Brown Shirts in Germany or the Black Shirts, their counterparts in Italy, came into being.  Do you know what functions they were formed to serve?  Initially, they had two roles to fulfill: to protect the meetings held by their party (the National Socialist German Worker's Party, in the case of the Brown Shirts) against efforts by the leftists to disrupt their meetings; and to break up the meetings and rallies held by the parties on the left. Now, the turmoil in post-World War One Germany was such that it is probably impossible to say who came first: the thugs on the left, or the thugs on the right; and it's most likely that the two more or less came into being simultaneously, in response to the general unrest in which the politics and economy of Weimar Germany operated.  The same cannot be said for the situation we are faced with today.  There are no Brown Shirts operating openly - at least, not yet. However, the same cannot be said for the disruptive forces and organizations on the left - the "evil twins" of any nascent Brown Shirts of today.  I am not a prophet; but at a certain point it takes no special talent to read the signs of the times.  As a watchman on the wall, I must say that, unless there are changes made to the way things are taking place, we are heading for troubles that will lead us away from civility and freedom, and into the fires of hatred and repression unthinkable for America even fifty years ago, when Freedom Riders were facing off with hooded Klansmen and antiwar protesters were shot and killed by the National Guard. Let us hope and pray that all the candidates, Mr. Trump included, will urgently call upon their followers for mutual respect and restraint; and that each of us will do our part in laboring to restrain our baser instincts, consider others as being better than ourselves, and renew our commitment to loving our neighbors, even when we do not agree with their choice of candidate.  Otherwise, may the Lord have mercy on us, for we are lost...