OVERRIDE THE HECKLER'S VETO
Emergence, Watercolor, 21.5” x 29.5”, Richard J Van Wagoner, 1995, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
I'd simplify these posts, write in easily understood, singularly-syllabic bullet points, but would still have as much chance of convincing the Trumps/Spencers/Bannons, the white supremacists/kkk/Nazis and their collective ilk as those revolting assholes have of convincing me. Rather than exemplifying decency by condemning the most appalling forms of hate speech, Trump engages in them. As everyone should know by now, Trump’s depravity serves as invitation to this vile collective to emerge from the shadows, to slime out from under whichever rock they fester.
It is taxing, at times nearly impossible, to recognize their right to advocate xenophobic, racist, bigoted and faux-Christian/religious views. The debate, however, allows us to study, reject and counter these views and their holders, a process that hopefully results in their marginalization to the extreme fringes where they live and belong: from time to time, social advancement comes with setbacks. The more Trump engages in false equivalency and refuses to denounce these haters, the more they praise their chief executive for his advocacy and endorsement. And the more Trump isolates himself to the margin. Dismaying perhaps, but a win-win nonetheless—his public approval (and disapproval) ratings are headed the right direction. And by the way, protecting haters’ right to engage in such speech preserves the rights of us all to engage in a nearly limitless array of speech, some of which others, even a majority, may disagree with.
Label me a liberal elite and stop reading. I'm white, male, heterosexual, and middle class. I have not been the object of misogyny, racism or bigotry. I have not been profiled by law enforcement, TSA or hate-mongers/-groups or physically and verbally accosted and diminished for an immutable quality or characteristic. I'm not at risk of deportation. I possess a general understanding of, but have not experienced, the culturally, socially, politically, geographically and legally diminished (and often silenced) voices of those who are not white heterosexual males. I abhor the corruption of voter suppression, gerrymandering for political advantage and unaccountable money in politics (I may have some difficulty squaring my personal views about Citizens United and the First Amendment).
I don't bring fire-arms, knives, clubs, torches, nooses or other weapons to rallies—though maybe the occasional rhetorically vile remark. Anyone, including protesters and counter-protesters, who threatens, incites or engages in physical violence or otherwise violates the law at or during an event (including candidates for national office) should be arrested and prosecuted. Where permits are required, those applicants with demonstrated history of physical violence ought to be carefully scrutinized and properly denied under the police power.
As I explained in a prior post, however, the First Amendment is, in my view, the most significant line of defense for preserving our form of open self-governance:
My personal opinion is the First Amendment contains the most significant protections and assurances toward open self-governance, and is [h]ugely more important than the putative constitutional checks and balances. We all know politics and greed (power, money) often prevail over oaths of office in the three separate but equal political branches of government, undermining the idea that said branches serve as legitimate checks on the others’ power and abuses. . . .
I don’t want to discount the importance of the ballot as a constitutional check on government power and its abuses—absent sabotage it can and has served the people well. But the democratic process is and continues to be undermined by gerrymandering, Russia and, shall we say, laws and tactics meant to suppress the vote of those who would throw those bastards out of office.
Charlottesville, the ACLU’s role on behalf of those on the extremes and its continued effort at content-neutral advocacy of the anti-majoritarian principles preserved within the Bill of Rights will be dissected and repackaged for years to come. Central to the debate, which is not a new one, is the deployment of limited resources, the extent to which the underlying constitutional principle is at risk, and the likelihood that absent the ACLU’s involvement the desired speaker will have his/her day in court:
A recurrent theme of late is hate speech on public college campuses and the anticipated and organized counter-protests: Shapiro; Coulter; Yiannopoulos; Horowitz; Bannon. Antifa. Berkeley’s latest is a perfect example of the heckler’s veto.
If a public institution of higher learning that fosters academic freedom chooses to accommodate student organizations, it must remain neutral in providing those speakers the organizations invite (and their respective viewpoints) a safe but open forum. Crush the egg shells. Stop worrying about the tender sensibilities of students who are or may be offended by the subject matter or content of the speech. If they are not interested in hearing others’ points of view, extreme, obscene and/or detestable as they may be, they shouldn’t attend. If students are interested in not being offended and only in confirmation bias, go to a tech school or a university that is not within a public system. Learn to navigate the world in a bubble.
Protect the speech. Call out the National Guard. But protect he speech.
*My brother the fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed nearly 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in lastamendment.com are hers.