Did Democrats make hate speech attractive? Our free society allows it within pretty broad limits, in part because hate speech means different things to different people. We learned from Kathy Griffin that at least one kind of expression is intolerable, in large part because it makes vehement anti-Trumpers look appallingly bad. That’s a good example because it set the stage for how we will react to yesterday’s shootings in Virginia.
It’s easy but far too simplistic to pin the blame for what happened on Democrats. Our free society protects even the most heated political speech. Most politicians know where to draw the line even if listeners on the other side of the divide might consider what they say to be hateful or anger-inspiring.
That doesn’t mean Democrats are blameless for the anger they began to stir up long before Trump took office.
Democrats redefine hate speech
Hate speech used to be all about minorities. Now we need to expand the idea to political and economic hate. That certainly seems to be the origin of yesterday’s shootings.
Democrats made political hate speech attractive when they set up two unspoken rules for correctness, one for the right and one for the left. They won’t admit their party’s contribution to the ugliness of contemporary politics even while they accuse officials they disagree with of “white nationalism,”1 exploit isolated anti-Muslim behavior as if it was a national plague, frighten immigrants with storm trooper threats, and refuse to come out loudly against hateful or threatening public gestures directed at a Republican president.
If we believe what we hear, the beliefs of the right are hateful and discriminatory and every utterance is objectionable. If you are from the left pretty much anything goes. Your words and deeds are a valid, protected expression against a power structure that preys on the common folk.
That doesn’t mean the Virginia shootings are because of anything Democrats said. Sometimes people jump the tracks and do crazy things. We can’t prevent that. The risk is using these incidents to tighten down on our free society.
Democrats make hate speech attractive
Which makes you angrier, being blamed for living in a free society that embraces hate speech as a right or knowing that the same people pointing the fingers at us for our alleged intolerance are determined to exploit hate for their own gain?
Telling Americans how terrible hate speech is won’t make it go away any more than cultivating extreme partisan animosity against everything that runs counter to liberal policy will calm the anger politics generates.
If hate speech wasn’t so offensive people wouldn’t do it. Crossing the line gets attention, whether that means a sign at a protest rally or a picture of a woman holding a phony severed head. Like pornography, we know it when we see it. Trying to stop it once and for all only ups the ante for the malcontents who disseminate hate.
Hate speech bills: for what purpose?
We’ve seen lots of go-nowhere bills to clamp down on something we can’t prevent short of locking up everyone who has something negative to say about an ethnicity, religion, or sexual preference. Offensive speech didn’t start with Trump. Rooting out bigotry is a no-brainer for Washington liberals.
Democratic paternalism dictates that we must be led down the path to correctness. In support of legislation condemning anti-Muslim bigotry Washington D.C. Rep. Eleanor Homes Norton suggested:
As we see many Americans expressing their fears, their leaders at every level have a special obligation to lead …2
I would argue that elected officials who report to us and are under the impression that we are the ones who need to be led are a lot more dangerous than we are. They are the ones with the power to make laws that control our behavior and prove time and again that they don’t always have the judgment, common sense, or virtue to make the right call.
The legislation Rep. Holmes referred to was a House resolution that in part:
Steadfastly confirms its [House of Representatives] dedication to the rights and dignity of all its citizens of all faiths, beliefs, and cultures;3
That was in 2015. Since then a Democratic candidate for president called those who opposed her “deplorables.” That’s how the party recognizes the dignity and defends the beliefs of all American citizens.
Is Big Brother’s oversight of free speech the answer?
Is keeping Big Brother’s watchful eye on what we do and say the solution to hate speech? We’ve been down that path, too. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and 29 Democratic cosponsors suggested that hate crime bill H.R.3878 was the answer. The legislation asked that we:
analyze information on the use of telecommunications, including the Internet, broadcast television and radio, cable television, public access television, commercial mobile services, and other electronic media, to advocate and encourage violent acts and the commission of crimes of hate, as described in the Hate Crime Statistics Act (28 U.S.C. 534 note);4
Barack Obama took things a step further when he suggested that we submit to ICANN’s oversight of our online speech, a move strongly opposed by conservatives like Ted Cruz:
As a private organization, ICANN is not bound by the First Amendment, which ICANN’s CEO and President Göran Marby admitted in a recent Senate hearing. The First Amendment applies only to the government. So if the government is out of the picture, the First Amendment is too. And that means that ICANN would be free to regulate Internet speech by restricting which websites can gain access to the Internet based on their speech.5
Surveillance to track hate is risky. So is looking for it. April 2017’s S.Res.118 resolves to take various measures against hate and:
condemns hate crime and any other form of racism, religious or ethnic bias, discrimination, incitement to violence, or animus targeting a minority in the United States;6
That’s a pretty wide net. Yes, speech can inspire hateful acts. That’s the price we pay for living in a free society.
At what point do the risks outweigh the benefits?
Hate speech challenges meaning of “free society”
Words are just that. You can walk into any library and find all manner of offensive books. If someone is inspired to commit an act of violence after reading a book, should the library be burned?
Going after hate is a dangerous endeavor. It’s hard to define a boundary between hate speech and responsibility for a hateful act. When politics grabs hold of numbers, facts tend to be exploited. That’s what happened with the alleged upsurge in hate crimes Barack Obama’s Justice Department turned to its advantage. Those numbers haven’t gone away. They were also included in Congressman Don Beyer’s March 2017 H.R.1566, the NO HATE Act:
According to data obtained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the incidence of such violence increased in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, in comparison to prior years.7
There is an advantage to exploiting fear. The Democratic flock of ethnic and religious minorities is growing and there is much political gain in pandering to their concerns and feeding their fears. These groups pale in comparison to the vast economic majority, especially those vulnerable to paternalistic politics. There is even more anger to be cultivated here and that’s precisely what Democrats have been doing. That doesn’t mean they are responsible for yesterday’s violent attack, but it sets the tone for political discourse that gives us a new definition for “hate speech.”
1. “Congresswoman Barbara Lee Demands Immediate Removal of Steve Bannon from National Security Council.” Congresswoman Barbara Lee. February 1, 2017. https://lee.house.gov/news/press-releases/congresswoman-barbara-lee-demands-immediate-removal-of-steve-bannon-from-national-security-council, retrieved June 13, 2017.
2. “House Democrats Introduce Legislation Condemning Anti-Muslim Bigotry.” Don Beyer. December 17, 2015. https://beyer.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=283, retrieved June 14, 2017.
4. “Text: H.R.3878 — 113th Congress (2013-2014).” Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/3878/text, retrieved June 15, 2017.
5. “Obama Should Not Put Free Speech at Risk on Internet By Giving Up US Oversight.” Commentary by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI). Sean Duffy. September 21, 2016. https://duffy.house.gov/media-center/enewsletters/obama-should-not-put-free-speech-at-risk-on-internet-by-giving-up-us, retrieved June 14, 2017.
6. “S.Res.118 – A resolution condemning hate crime and any other form of racism, religious or ethnic bias, discrimination, incitement to violence, or animus targeting a minority in the United States.” Congress.gov. April 5, 2017. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-resolution/118/text, retrieved June 15, 2017.
7. “Text: H.R.1566 – 115th Congress (2017-2018).” Congress.gov. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1566/text, retrieved June 15, 2017.