Obama promised that he had no such plan. The true figure, thus far, is about 2, There is something called historical truth. Trump is not post-factual. People on the internet like to claim that everything is a matter of opinion and all opinions are equally valid. And Elvis is dead. There are not two available points of view about whether the Holocaust happened. So is David Irving. Reasserting the principle that freedom of speech does not include the freedom to falsify unchecked seems timely.
David Hare is a playwright and screenwriter. His forthcoming film is Denial. Woodard explores the US as a cluster of 11 different cultures, some of which we share with our neighbours, Canada and Mexico. In order to understand Trump and his appeal, I think we can focus on Appalachian culture, which was exported from the Scottish borders in the 18th century, and was marked by an affinity for conflict and evangelical protestantism. Another intransigent American culture is that of the deep south, slaveholders who came to the US from the sugar plantations of Barbados and were much more hierarchical and ruthless than the slaveholders in Virginia.
Perhaps the most interesting and relevant nation, though, is New Netherland, founded in , a partly Dutch nation, very diverse, not religious, but authoritarian and corporate run by the Dutch West Indies Corporation. Now New York City, it is the extreme capitalist nation, which has never minded making a buck from no matter what, including the slave trade.
I would say that the resistance to having a black man as president, which laid the groundwork for the current fix we are in, comes from the deep southern and Appalachian nations; but the mercenary and ruthless lack of conscience hello, Donald Trump! An increasingly global, mobile and craven class, Lasch contended, isolates itself in its social networks and physical cocoons, a flight not only from daily experience in public spaces but a political abandonment of the working and middle class that also betrays basic democratic practices and values. A man who made a fortune from golf courses, Trump now presents himself as the voice of the silenced white masses.
A property developer who made a fortune from luxury condos and golf courses, Trump now presents himself as the voice of the silenced white masses. A onetime Democrat whose primary political allegiance is to himself, Trump precisely embodies the selfish elite Lasch dissected in the s and s.
The physical segregation of Americans into economically or racially homogenous communities has its counterpart in the subdivision of our discussions and opinions. Effectively excluded from public debate, most Americans no longer have any use for the information inflicted on them in such large amounts. Wealth, false choices and Trump himself devour the coverage.
The actual rise of Trump was made possible by a curiously limited, outmoded system of primaries in the Republican party that gives wildly disproportionate weight to extremists — a problem with our congressional elections. It is a triumph of faith, indeed.
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Trump is fond of claiming in messianic terms that he alone can save America, and restore the American Dream. This is the ideology into which Trump has tapped so powerfully: the idea that business success is itself a virtue to be ranked above all others, to be worshipped. The world that he envisioned was one in which character was increasingly sacrificed for wealth — and that is the world that Trump embodies, and which he would like to rule.
But of course, that could never happen in America. Most people idealise democracy as a form of governance in which an informed populace deliberates about the common good and carefully selects leaders who carry out their preferences. By that standard the world has never had a democracy. Most voters are ignorant not just of current policy alternatives but of the most elementary facts about politics and history, such as the major branches of government or which countries have used nuclear weapons.
When they do formulate a preference, they commonly vote for a candidate with the opposite one. Voters punish incumbents for recent events over which they have dubious control, such as macroeconomic swings and terrorist strikes, or no control at all, such as droughts, floods or even shark attacks.
Achen and Bartels suggest that most people correctly recognise that their votes are astronomically unlikely to affect the outcome of an election and so they prioritise work and family over educating themselves about politics. They use the franchise as a form of self-expression: they vote for candidates who they think speak up for their kind of people.
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To the horror of the Washington establishment, a gabby maverick with no record of political office uses his celebrity, in a depressed and paranoid America, to fuel a furious movement that threatens the hegemonies of politics, corporations and the media. Considering the insurgent unthinkable, they plot to stop him. The year is , and Upton Sinclair , a well-known journalist and author, has sensationally won the Democratic nomination to be governor of California, on the back of his End Poverty in California movement Epic.
Sinclair is now most remembered as the writer of industrial documentary novels such as The Jungle , set in the Chicago meat yards, and Oil!
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His most enduring legacy, though, has proved to be a quixotic bid for public office, which introduced two perversions — subsequently recurrent — of the political process. These tropes seem to have reached their apotheosis in the US presidential election. Ideologically, Sinclair most resembles Bernie Sanders. Both men were socialists who became Democrats for specific electoral purpose. However, in his takeover of a major party in a key campaign, Sinclair most spookily previews Donald Trump.
Like Trump, he terrified the elders of his adopted affiliation and the media by being widely viewed as too peculiar to rule. It was first published in the election year in which an independent presidential candidate, Texas oilman H Ross Perot , became the most successful non-politician presidential candidate until Trump. In , it was released for the first time as an ebook, because, as Mitchell acknowledged in a preface, he saw, in the Occupy Wall Street grassroots movement, parallels with Epic, and wanted to offer Sinclair as both a warming and warning example to the new wave of progressive protestors.
As it turned out, the template had less relevance to the presidential election, when an incumbent president received a handsome re-endorsement, than had seemed likely in the febrile atmosphere leading up to the vote. The Campaign of the Century, though, proves a useful handbook to the present political convulsions in America, although liberals will read it now looking for clues to how a feisty outsider can be stopped.
What ultimately finished Sinclair was that the intervention of a strong third party candidate, Raymond L Haigh of the Progressive party, split the anti-establishment vote and allowed Merriam to be re-elected, helped by the media touting him as the sensible or at least safer option. The larger question, though, is which candidate will be left standing after the Trump and Clinton campaigns and their proxies have engaged Merriam-like negative tactics against each other.
The American decision in sees the polarities of California 34 reversed — the maverick a regressive rightwinger, a Democrat running as the defender of sanity and capitalism — but the parallels are otherwise uncanny. Upton Sinclair, an unfairly neglected writer of political fiction, is a more lasting presence as a ghost in the political machine. Long before Donald Trump started dropping hints about political assassinations, death was a looming presence in his speeches.
But the book The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life makes a haunting case for just how much authoritarians stand to gain by exploiting our fear of mortality. Their results endorse the hunch set forth with brilliance, but little scientific rigour, by Ernest Becker in his masterpiece The Denial of Death.
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Unable to accept the fact that our lives are finite, we seek symbolic immortality — often through child-rearing or creative work or devotion to great causes, but sometimes to demagogues instead. But The Worm at the Core shows that their deepest motivating fear, however appallingly they may express is, it is one that the rest of us know all too well. Like the wizard, Trump blinds voters with sham opulence, and promises to make their wishes come true. All-American Dorothy and her charming sidekicks trip off to the dazzling Emerald City to seek help from the mighty wizard of Oz.
The awesome eminence promises to give them everything they desire if they kill off his biggest female rival first. Since the s it has been fashionable to read Oz as an allegory of turn of the century populism: the yellow brick road represents the gold standard, the Emerald City stands in for paper dollars, and so on. They just have to believe in themselves. Macomb was a nearly all white suburban county just outside of Detroit.
In Macomb voted for Ronald Reagan , and in he took two-thirds of the vote. In other words, these working-class voters, who had once supported progressive candidates, had shifted decisively to the right. What Greenberg discovered in his many interviews with Macomb voters was that they felt that the Democratic party had abandoned them, that it had stopped paying attention to the concerns of working people and the striving middle class, and started paying too much attention to the concerns of black people and other minorities. When the Democratic party started to take civil rights seriously and to embrace however tepidly antiracism, many white working class voters saw it as a betrayal.
Spencer admitting on a podcast that they the alt-right weren't actually supportive of freedom of speech, describing it as a strategy of being "radically pragmatic". But all this aside, how should we approach "freedom of speech" as a context? It probably is not something that should be dismissed in its entirety, even if we do not use it as a term, especially after how soiled it has become. Government repression is a genuine and omnipresent threat to working class and anti-capitalist movements around the world, wherever it be in China, France, Brazil, South Africa, Iran or the United States.
As mentioned earlier, "free speech" has often used by the left to defend itself when under attack in the past. Early leading figures including the feminist and pacifist Crystal Eastman, and six-time Socialist Party of America candidate Norman Thomas. However, times changed. Joseph Stalin rose to power, and many former sympathisers became alienated with communism.
Of course, what this bit of history shows us is that free speech is something that we are better off with or without, it isn't much of an ends in of itself. It's all very well to be able to say that you are living in a horribly alienating, exploitative and oppressive society, but merely being able to say alone that isn't going to make your life any better. And those focusing solely on freedom of speech or even civil liberties, and not a wider analysis of the suffering in the world around us, aren't necessarily going to be helpful.
We can perhaps view freedom of expression and other state-derived civil liberties as akin to social democracy or the welfare state - a bandage placed upon a gaping wound, something that helps mitigate the worst of what may happen, but doesn't cure our ills, it doesn't seek out the root cause of repression. It's also something that is easily ignored by the state even when it is supposedly enshrined on a constitutional level - who was going to stop the HUAC during the Red Scare? The government? The conception of freedom of speech as a "right" - or indeed of anything else as a "right" - presupposes that it is being granted by a higher power beyond your control, and having a right to something doesn't mean much beyond rhetoric when there is no-one to stop you being deprived of that right.
What Is a Populist?
Furthermore, "freedom of speech" as a concept in of itself is quite the nebulous thing. It's doubtful you could get many self-described supporters of freedom of speech to support legalizing death threats or child pornography, other than a few hardcore absolutists who fetishize the concept to the exclusion of anything else. Political philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his work On Liberty said that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others".
This has come to be known as the "harm principle".
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Mill, of course, is a philosopher who was very influential on liberalism and is still often cited today. This is typically used to justify restrictions on things such as libel or threats, but how do we implement such a principle? Is it justified to use anti-sedition laws to stifle dissent, on the grounds that it may harm those who hold power?
Is it justified to introduce hate speech laws, to prevent the further subjugation, harassment and potentially violence against marginalised groups? You'd get a lot of people disagreeing with arguments such as those, although the level of crossover may be lower than what you assume. You could even make an argument that consensual, adult pornography causes societal harm and it is therefore permissible to ban it under the harm principle, which shows that this rule of exceptions is in itself something that is vague and open to interpretation.
So, with freedom of speech remaining something of an ambiguous concept, it shouldn't be surprising that it is something that can be easily co-opted by anyone. As far as I can tell, no-one has assembled a comprehensive history of reactionary appropriation of the concept. Arguably, some reactions to antifascists in the s and s could be considered something of a precursor, even if the rhetoric is slightly different. The British Union of Fascists, in its press statement following the Battle of Cable Street in stated that "under the Present Government, therefore, free speech can be prevented by anyone who cares to organise violence against it in defiance of the law but with impunity from the Government".
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With government repression of fascist organizations in many places following the end of World War II, and as decades passed and the war faded more out of the conciousness of younger generations, it became easier for the far-right to cast themselves as "oppressed", regardless of their intentions of intensifying oppression. In , the US Supreme Court struck down the state of Ohio's "criminal syndicalism" statute, prohibiting the advocacy of violence, in a suite involving the state and members of the Ku Klux Klan, supported by the ACLU.
The court ruled ruled that the United States cannot make speech-based prosecutions unless they are "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action". It should be noted that the Ohio Criminal Syndicalism Statute was introduced in , and its name was no accident as it was originally intended to directly prosecute groups such as the IWW during the First Red Scare.
However, it is perhaps worth noting here as a relatively early example of freedom of speech legislation being used specifically to defend far-right groups in the post-war period, and other American white supremacists appear to have been taking notes. After a complex legal battle involving both federal and state-level authorities, and in spite of the wishes of the people of Skokie, the decision by authorities to deny permission to march in Skokie was revoked.
Despite this, they ultimately marched in Chicago instead. What is most remarkable about this incident, however, were the NSPA utilizing the rhetoric of "freedom of speech" in a highly visible way. It is not hard to see how this proved a forebearer of things to come. The ACLU once again were in the role of the defence - albeit with the cost of losing 30, of their own members. In the s and s, a right-wing backlash against the gains minority groups had made in recent decades in the West began to emerge. These reactionaries adopted the phrase "political correctness" to refer to efforts to avoid discriminatory language, or discrimination in general.
Although it preceded the right-wing popularization of the phrase, which came into vogue in the US around , an early example of a case of anti-"PC" media panics can be dated back to February Shortly after the story was published, the Hackney Gazette , a local newspaper asked the nursery that had been cited for the ban about it.
They responded by saying that "we're run by parents and if they want us to stop singing it, we would. But there have been no complaints so far, though someone once suggested it could be racist". However, this was only in a local newspaper, and the correction that the ban had not in fact even happened was only reported by a few minority-oriented papers. Meanwhile, the non story was carried by several national newspapers through and , such as the Daily Mail and the supposedly respectable Economist , and it continues to circulate as an urban legend to this day.
To anyone familiar with the kind of sensationalist and frequently misrepresented stories about "SJWs on campus" served up by Breitbart and YouTube channels with pretentious names today, this should all sound very familiar. With the rise of social movements such as Black Lives Matter in the early s, it became easy to couple "anti-PC" rhetoric with the use of "free speech" rhetoric to defend the far-right to create a dangerously potent formula.
With a generation of disenfranchised angry young men growing up in an increasingly uncertain world, reactionaries found a fertile recruiting ground. But enough has been written about the rise of the alt-right at this point. Going back to the theme of rightist exploitation of liberalism's weaknesses, we have a figure that many of the people reading this will likely have been waiting to be mentioned - political philosopher and Nazi Party member Carl Schmitt.
Schmitt saw all politics as a form of violence, and even liberalism ultimately had to defend itself from that which seeks to destroy it. If democracy is foolish enough to give us free railway passes and salaries, that is its problem". More well-known but from a liberal perspective is Karl Popper's idea of the "Paradox of Tolerance", which holds that the "intolerant" much not be tolerated or else tolerance will be destroyed - however, this seems a lot more similar to the ideas that are critical on how well freedom of speech can be applied as a broad principle, but rather at the even more vague measure of "tolerance" - which is something that largely only exists in terms of rhetoric rather than a legally enshrined "right".
Perhaps a more helpful approach than the rather narrow focus solely on speech would be a broader look at oppression, or the suffering that the powerful subject others to, although this is something that tends to require a degree of social analysis, and is not really something that can be reduced to a catchy phrase like "free speech" is.