The War in Our Heads

Is there a war against conservative free speech in this country? If we are to believe the tirades coming from such right-wing organs as The Daily Caller, there is no doubt that a war is raging between the Quixotic champions of the First Amendment (the vilified, threatened and intimidated voices of the political right) and the barbarian hordes hellbent on destroying that sacred freedom (the godless, chaos embracing thugs of the radical left). I must applaud Daily Caller commentator Dan Backer for so thoroughly and expertly reciting the talking points conservative media figures have been flogging us with for a generation: the radical left is out to destroy true free speech and, as a result, the conservative voice shall be forever lost. This legend can be traced at least as far as the annual rantings of former Fox News agitator Bill O’Reilly and his “War on Christmas” segments that sought to reinforce the ‘Christian America’ myth, remind the Fox audience that multiculturalism was a threat to the nation and convince us that the phrase “Happy Holidays” was morally equivalent to throwing up one’s hand and shouting “Heil Hitler”.

Fortunately, that particular scrap of nonsense has apparently been resolved, but the front has shifted to our nation’s colleges and universities. It is on these campuses, Backer tells us, that “a modern inquisition” has taken root to protect “the increasingly cult-like radicalism being infused into the minds of college students”. This shadowy army of militant liberals numbers, according to Backer’s comments, at least 150 (the number of students that “violently attacked” a group of conservatives at a college in Vermont). Whatever will the political right do in the face of these masses? By the way: when was the last time a liberal thinker, an atheist or a pro-choice speaker was invited to speak at one of the many Christian universities in this country. Once that happens, I will be more inclined to listen to right-wing complaints about how freedom of speech is limited and restricted.

Backer also takes public companies like Facebook to task for yielding to the leftist mob and bringing on staff to monitor the information that is disseminated via the platform. He calls this “[kowtowing] to the prevailing liberal media narrative”; others might call this a reasonable action for a publicly traded corporation to protect revenue streams. This is not really different from Fox News forcing out Saint O’Reilly for endangering sponsorship money or Roger Ailes stepping down to redirect attention away from the apparent den of misogyny his firm had become. Has Fox News, that bastion of conservative truth, itself succumbed to pressure from the militant left, or did it perhaps simply respond as multinational corporations tend to respond?

This brings us to the subject of “fake news”, an epithet Backer is quick to deploy against the majority of agencies that are not Fox News, Breitbart or The Daily Caller. I find it amusing that a right-wing commentator should be so quick to decry long-established firms such as The New York Times and The Washington Post as being narrow-minded and waging “war on the open mind” when the aforementioned agencies were created with the single idea of promulgating a reactionary message at the expense of anything remotely suggestive of liberal thought. It is no coincidence that Backer uses this already threadbare phrase “fake news” as a pejorative, a pathetic attempt to undermine opposing viewpoints; it was, after all, the legions of Trump disciples that first brought this dreadful phrase into the public discourse. Fake news is not a liberal conspiracy to bring down the Donald Trumps of the wold: it is the dying gasp of a political philosophy that bares no resemblance to the actual conservative thought of the Founders and instead feeds lies, half-truths, rumors and speculation to its audience in the appearance of critical thought and well-reasoned argument. On one point I definitely agree with Mr. Backer:

They [liberals] won’t debate ideas, or engage with those who espouse them, because, like the college radicals who claim people are racist fascists in order to justify shouting them down, they have predetermined what is and what is not a legitimate discussion.

This strikes me as laughably ignorant considering characters like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Daily Caller founder Tucker Carlson all have made their fortunes shouting down progressives, ignoring their views, ridiculing their ideas and throwing accusations of unpatriotic behavior about like confetti. The only reason the names Milo Yiannopolous, Alex Jones and Steve Bannon have become common knowledge is because they have espoused the indefensible and prided themselves on being unmovable in their positions. How, I would ask, is anyone supposed to argue ideas with people so deeply wrapped in their partisanship that they have created their own media outlets to share them? Is the mainstream media’s lock on public discourse so strong that these standard-bearers of the political right have to take to their own airwaves to get their message out? I find that difficult to accept. Perhaps the reason these messages are being silenced is because they are not welcome. Just because one has the freedom of speech does not always mean one should exercise it. Do I believe that honest dialogue and real conversations should take place between the political left and right in this country? Of course I do. That dialogue, however, must be completely divorced from the rhetorical trickery and baiting that goes on from major media sources of all stripes. Conversations cannot be held as long as we remain secure in our respective echo chambers. Therefore, if Dan Backer, Ann Coulter, Rachel Maddow or Paul Krugman seriously and genuinely want a civil political discourse to take place, maybe they should all shut the fuck up and let the people down in the trenches (i.e. the ordinary voter with no real political axe to grind) come together and make sense of it all.

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