Next time you’ll hear somebody urging to censor free speech out of the fear of giving the platform to hateful views, please point to Donald Trump. How else, if not by allowing someone to speak their mind, would we know that somebody is a complete tool?
Donald Trump sparked a controversy by proposing to ban Muslim entry to the United States. No, this isn’t a case of being caught up in a moment during one of his verbose rallies or being quoted out of context (he had a fair portion of that). He didn’t in any way imply that the prohibition of entry would apply only to known ISIS-supporting Jihadists. Not even close. It would be an official policy of the Trump administration, which would apply to all Muslims, without much consideration of circumstances.
The suggestion caused a wave of outrage among all right-thinking people. He was denounced as a fascist, racist, bigot, and other words that would normally disqualify anyone from running for the office. And despite what few polls are claiming, it’s fair to say that this is peak Trumpism. From here, the only way is downhill.
All credit must go to the principle of free speech, no ifs or buts. It gave Trump a platform to speak his mind and be judged by the content of his ideas rather than appearance or affiliations. Unfortunately for him, he came out of the closet as an unrepentant authoritarian. But this is exactly how the West performs at its best. Having a vigorous and challenging debate is the way Western societies moved forward and came to know as being liberal.
The real disturbing part of this is that although the whole Trump affair proved that unlimited free speech is a force for good, there’s still a push for censorship by the unbearable no-platform brigade. This epitomises the so-called ‘new politics’ – a race who will ban the other first.
In the UK, not only a petition urging to ban Trump from entering the country is gaining traction, but Scottish government and universities also withdrew all previously assigned titles. In the US, calls are made from all sides to drop Trump from the Republican presidential race. It seems that nowadays completely ridiculing and debunking the man’s ideas won’t suffice. The heretics of ‘you can’t say that!’ must be punished and destroyed.
This sets a very dangerous precedent. Raising the stakes of speaking your mind can’t incentivise public figures to state their exact views. What we will get instead is politicians mincing their opinions with worthless and baffling rhetoric, which in the end won’t mean anything. In this case, all credit will have to go the no-platformists.
Such illiberal impulses hide both revulsion towards ordinary people and pure laziness. It’s elitist distrust in the public who might dare to support Trump’s views out of sheer prejudice and fear of extremism after San Bernardino and Paris terror attacks. Needless to say, such fears are always unfounded. But it’s intellectually sluggish because instead of constantly making an argument against authoritarianism, they believe it’s enough to have one successful stand off and then just prohibit the dissenting voice.
It’s evident that we need more free speech, not less. But we must also be prepared to allow the Donalds of all kinds to debate at all prestigious universities and prime time TV shows. This is the only way to efficiently invalidate the intolerance.