by Justin Robbins
It became clear on the morning of November 9, 2016, the future would contain ample fodder on which people like me, the chronically righteously indignant, might focus our ire. Readers of this blog will recall it took me little time to assail chalky alt-right mouthpiece Richard Spencer, and his jack-booted heel-clicking welcome of the election results.
To my surprise and chagrin, I must now rise again…in his defense. A pox on those who made this necessary.
However, it is exactly at times like this when our attention must be on the greater issue; the inalienable freedoms of our citizens to speak their mind, and to peaceably assemble. It is a much bigger picture, and more important than a festering little white-head, seen in here getting popped in our nation’s capitol, on Inauguration Day, while exercising these very freedoms.
I’ll confess my gut reaction was a nagging sense of justice. I came quickly to realize this was, in fact, feeding the normalization of violence in response to disagreement. Something that can not be acceptable in a nation which has moved beyond dueling as a means to settle disagreements.
On balance, this sucker punch was not even the day’s most egregious affront to this most critical of our nation’s founding principles. The Interior Department shut down Twitter accounts of National Park employees who re-tweeted pictures of the comparatively dismal turnout at the new president’s coronation. There were also unprecedented limitations on press access to the inaugural celebrations.
It is clear this president intends to enhance his brand by pretending to be the victim of, and cultivating an adversarial relationship with the press. In and of itself, this is perfectly fine; preferable even. However, he has also (already) demonstrated the authoritarian tendency to control the message by controlling the messenger; the free press.
Notice, please, his censorship of unfavorable information is not an assault on the press…or the “mainstream media” for that matter. It is rather an assault on the people served by that information; the citizen. It is on us. At best, it betrays the president’s pathological insecurity about himself, his agenda, and his image. At worst, it is his declaration that the common people need not be bothered with any criticism of the Dear Leader, and may in fact be stifled in their efforts to share, or even discover facts.
What does this have to do with Richard Spencer getting sieg-heiled in downtown D.C.? Sadly, everything. Indeed, the very same everything about which the leader of the free world seems to know exactly nothing.
“If liberty means anything at all,” wrote George Orwell, “it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Put perhaps more succinctly by Rosa Luxemburg, “The freedom of speech is meaningless unless it means the freedom of the person who thinks differently.”
These are the thoughts foundational to the arguably most important, and First Amendment to our Constitution. The people shall not, must not and, dare I say will not allow themselves to be either sequestered or silenced. If we cannot by peaceful means, through reasoned argument, non-violent action and free and democratic processes, resign to irrelevance the most morally repugnant and intellectually bankrupt of our species, we have little hope of a world without Trumps and Spencers.
Of Spencer, it may help to realize he (when struck) was being interviewed by an Australian news agency, probably for their listeners’ amusement. Yet, today, he again has national news headlines. Might I suggest we let him spew his bile from the rooftops until all can hear it for the ignorant, impotent, terrified rhetoric it is; and can choose freely to mock him. Also, to stand ready with a better message.
In the meantime, for the sake of freedom, and that I might never need type these words again: don’t punch the Nazi.