Democracy in Chicago

Racists have a right to speak and be heard, no matter how obnoxious or orange they may be.

Tell that to the well-meaning protesters who infiltrated a Trump rally in Chicago Friday night and shut it down before the bogus billionaire even touched down at O’Hare. Fights promptly broke out between the crowd that had come to hear its candidate speak and those who were there to make sure that didn’t happen. Who knows who started the fray, but does it matter? Protesting a rally shouldn’t be about smashing your fist into an attendee’s nose cartilage, even if he is giving you the Nazi salute. Nowhere did MLK tell the people to start swinging at a sit-in.

It’d be foolish to believe that every protester allowed through the metal detectors at the UIC Pavilion was there to keep the event from going forward, or even disrupt it a little. I myself had toyed with the idea of attending the rally, just to see America’s sinister new demagogue and his rabid devotees up close. I’m curious like that (so said the cat). Plus I think that’s what any good writer should do: step away from his desk or reading chair for a few hours and go into the streets, where ideas are spurring action.

But the simple fact is that enough disrupters were in the stadium Friday night to prevent the presidential frontrunner of a major political party from speaking to his supporters. He had a right to speak, his supporters had a right to listen, but some of the protesters felt otherwise.

Nearly all of my so-called liberal peers, in Chicago and elsewhere, cheered the postponement of Trump’s rally, seeing it as a point for democracy. One called it “democracy through interruption”; another insisted that “stopping speech is free speech” (a paradox if ever one was uttered). As for me, when I learned the protesters had actually succeeded in keeping Trump from speaking to his gang — an objective I’d gotten whiffs of during the week — I saw nothing but a depressing victory against democracy.

Democracy in America is dead, outlined in chalk in a Chicago intersection. And while it may be the Trump supporters who’ve wielded the blade this whole time — with their venom and foaming hatred — in the end, it was the “liberal” protesters who finally sunk the blade into democracy’s chest, as people danced in the streets.

“So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause.”

Leftists are as certain of their values as racists are of theirs, and since most on both sides maintain only the faintest grasp on the concepts of democracy, liberty, and freedom of speech, which to them are more slogans than principles, they are far too willing to trample on all three to see their agendas implemented (or imposed). But a utopia mandated by law or mob force isn’t heaven. It’s hell.

(I realize that most people will either disagree with or be confused by that last statement. For that I blame a decrepit education system which fails to prepare citizens for hard thinking and a mass media-entertainment industry which absolves them of such obligations.)

Most people picture Heaven as idyllic, where everyone is kind and even generous to their neighbor. What most people fail to perceive is that Heaven (the imaginary place in the sky, past God knows where) is ruled by an un-protestable and unalterable law, and populated by mindless, desireless drudges. All the cherubs are gentle and submissive because they’re forced to be, under threat of eternal despair.

Many “liberals” seem keen to replicate Heaven on Earth. They want each individual to do and say what they believe appropriate, and they’ll shout down anyone who opposes their vision. So when the GOP frontrunner says he wants to build a wall to keep marauding Mexicans from crossing the southern border, or ban all Muslims as potential terrorists, they won’t allow him to hold an event where those who agree with his ideas can hear him reiterate them. There’s no hatred in Heaven, after all, and anyone who wants to preach hate can go straight to Hell.

Over the past few days I’ve been attacked for affirming the very principles defended above; not by Trump’s troop of baboons — who, of course, can’t be conned enough — but by my liberal allies, who, by definition, are supposed to stand for freedom: above all, the freedom of speech. Suffice it to say I’m feeling a bit Orwellian lately. He, too, was attacked by his comrades for championing free speech and condemning Stalinism at a time when propaganda was orthodoxy and the West had sided with Communism against fascism. “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban,” he cautioned in 1945, as the second world war was cooling into the cold one:

Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines — being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. … At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

Same goes for the public square, or Twitter or Facebook. You might have a long, solid record of defending every progressive value, every liberal position, but dare to utter a view that doesn’t jive with the one widely-held by liberals, and you’ll get disowned, discredited, and straight-up dissed by the same throng which only a moment earlier embraced you as a brother-in-arms. Most liberals don’t authentically believe in the principles they so adamantly tout, as much as they want others to believe in them.

Notably, but not surprisingly, it was the artists I’m honored to know who comprised the vast majority of people that spoke up for free speech and condemned the cancelation of a campaign rally due to the threat of violence. Scribblers and other creatives are usually the first to defend the freedom of thought and expression, and usually its last defenders as well, when everyone else has abandoned their principles out of expediency. Writers are well aware that the censor’s finger, pointed at a presidential candidate today, can just as easily swing ’round at them tomorrow. Society must safeguard even the Devil’s rights, as Sir Thomas More so deftly explains in A Man for All Seasons, not for his protection but for our own. In scrapping the right to free speech in order to silence a candidate and his supporters, you create a gag for your own mouth.

People have the right to protest a campaign, but not to silence a candidate. (I stand with the people who stayed outside the Pavilion on Friday and protested peacefully.) Shouting down a candidate at his own rally invades his right to speak freely as well as his supporters’ rights to listen and peaceably assemble: both of which the Constitution guarantees to each citizen in its leading amendment. Trump’s supporters are just as angry with the status quo as Bernie Sanders’s supporters are, though for dissimilar reasons and with an opposite course of action in mind. Still, while you may not empathize with their outrage, and you probably don’t agree with their proposals, they and their candidate must be afforded extra protection if 2016 is to see truly open and democratic elections. The freedom of speech, if it means something, means the right of any minority, no matter how small or unpopular, to have its voice heard, by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Put another away, Trump’s right to speak at a sanctioned event in Chicago is exactly Bernie’s right to speak at his own event in Mississippi or Utah.

If Trump supporters were to swarm a Sanders event and prevent it from going forward, what would the protesters of Chicago say then? They’d say what they’ve been saying: that I can’t compare the Bernie Sanders campaign to Donald Trump’s, and that I can’t compare Bernie bros to Trump troupers. Because Sanders urges economic justice and racial equality, Sanders should be allowed to speak his mind, while Trump, who sows division of all sorts, must be silenced. His views aren’t useful to American society, their argument goes, but “the usefulness of an opinion,” as John Stuart Mill recognized, “is itself matter of opinion: as disputable, as open to discussion, and requiring discussion as much, as the opinion itself.” No authority, neither the government nor the people, may decide what can be said, where it can be said, and to whom, because liberals are liable to volunteer as censors as quickly as conservatives would nominate themselves. “Every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical.” Each side of the political chasm believes those on the other side to be threats to society.

The greatest threat to democracy, however, comes not from for any rabble-rouser or political movement, but from within each citizen. Everyone is born with a little dictator in them: a tiny totalitarian tendency which holds our beliefs as absolutely just, and all others as, if not unjust, then potentially so. Those who want Trump silenced believe it would be for the good of society and the security of rights. But when you trample on the freedom of speech to protect other rights, you attack the mainspring of all rights, because if people can’t think, read, speak or write whatever they choose, then they’ve lost the very faculty that makes them human — namely, their conscience. The elimination of all that’s bad in the society (returning to Heaven, so to speak) gets rid of all that’s good, too. Remove the power to be hateful, and you remove the power not to be.

I don’t expect a little essay of mine to convince anyone of anything (however much I may secretly wish it). I write only to express what I believe based on what I’ve read, what I’ve experienced, and what I’ve worked out in my own head and on the page. If I’m wrong, then I claim the right to be, and to have my wrong views aired and debated anywhere, anytime. People have the right to disagree with what I say and type, but they don’t have the right to silence me if they disagree or think my views are dangerous. Because the idea that society should mute dangerous ideas is, far and away, the most dangerous idea of them all.

Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr