The Founders of this nation were a radical bunch. Only true revolutionaries would dare to enshrine freedom of speech as the very first, and most fundamental, constitutional right. Human beings don’t find it natural to tolerate views we find threatening or offensive; when people upset or challenge us, our instinct is to make them shut the hell up. For people in power, that temptation is nearly irresistible. This is why the first act of every tyrant is to suppress dissent—and why the First Amendment has always been fragile, especially in times of national crisis. In the current crisis, threats to free speech are coming from both the Left and the Right. Leftist inquisitors have turned college campuses and insular liberal communities into “safe spaces” where “hate speech”—and even mainstream conservative ideas—are impermissible. Violators are banned, fired, and silenced by any means necessary. “Shut it down!” is these righteous censors’ rallying cry.
Now it is President Trump who is shouting, “Shut it down.” He doesn’t think African-American NFL players should be “allowed” to kneel during the national anthem as a political protest, and is demanding the league fire them. (See Main Stories.) His stance requires a certain lack of self-awareness, given that Trump began his political career by saying deliberately outrageous and offensive things —insisting, for example, that former Vietnam POW Sen. John McCain was no war hero, because he was taken captive (loser!), and that the then-sitting president was a foreign-born Muslim impostor with no legal right to the office. In certain countries whose authoritarian leaders Trump admires, such impertinence can get you hauled off to a gulag, or your head chopped off by a hooded executioner with a scimitar. Look: Free speech can be very upsetting. But honoring everyone’s right to speak is the only hope we have of seeing anything from another point of view. Let’s deal with it, and stop acting like a nation of snowflakes.