Let’s begin with this strip from today’s Doonesbury, courtesy of reader Diane G. And yes, Trump did say all of these things, save one. (Click to enlarge.) I can’t believe I haven’t been following Doonesbury during this election season, and wonder what I’ve missed.
It’s shameful that so many America’s support a windy demagogue like this; one can only guess that they share his views. It can’t just be that they simply admire plain speaking and a politician that doesn’t dissimulate, because a. Trumpe does dissimulate, and b. what he says “plainly” is reprehensible. No, one can indict Trump supporters for sharing his views. It’s amusing to me how prominent Republicans recoil because they now see the embodiment of the bigotry and entitlement that they heretofore only implied but never stated outright. And I’ll be glad to bet any reader $20 that Trump will lose the election come November.
Anyway, there’s a bit of kerfuffle going on in the British press about The Donald. Exactly one month ago I put up a video of author J. K. Rowling speaking at a PEN gala in New York, asserting that—as all rational folk do—she found Trump’s views absolutely reprehensible, but didn’t support the suggested ban of his coming to England, for she was in favor of free speech.
Rowling’s views, however, were attacked on the same day in the Guardian by Suzanne Kelly, who started the petition last year (now having over 585,000 signatories) to ban Trump from entering the UK. The reason? Trump’s bigotry, of course, which Kelly considers “hate speech.”
Trump has said that terrorists’ relatives should be “taken out”. He has said that he would ban Muslims from entering the US. Protesters are not free to gather near or at his rallies without the threat of violence – and he said at one point that he was considering paying legal fees for a supporter who lashed out. The film You’ve Been Trumped catalogues Trump’s bullying ways in Scotland. The former councillor Debra Storr opposed Trump, and later claimed to have been assaulted by a Trump supporter.
. . . Trump has said that terrorists’ relatives should be “taken out”. He has said that he would ban Muslims from entering the US. Protesters are not free to gather near or at his rallies without the threat of violence – and he said at one point that he was considering paying legal fees for a supporter who lashed out. The film You’ve Been Trumped catalogues Trump’s bullying ways in Scotland. The former councillor Debra Storr opposed Trump, and later claimed to have been assaulted by a Trump supporter.
Because of this, Kelly claims that Trump’s presence incites hatred and violence, giving sufficient reason to ban him.
Note, though that she’s short on examples of actual violence; what she argues (as do American college students who oppose free speech) is that the threat of violence, or the possibility of Trump-inspired violence, is sufficient reason to ban him. In other words, hate speech is a form of violence.
Even in the U.S., free speech is not permitted if it incites immediate violence. That is, you can say, “I think all abortion doctors should be attacked,” but you can’t say “I want you to go out and kill abortion doctors, especially doctors X, Y, and Z right now!” Kelly:
The sad truth is that irresponsible verbal attacks can lead to physical ones. This is why the UK has banned over 80 hate preachers. The problem is not simply that I, and others who signed my petition, find Trump’s hateful rhetoric offensive; I do not count myself among the perpetually offended who seek to censor anything they don’t like. The problem is the physical violence that has come as a result of Trump’s words.
Well, yes, verbal attacks can lead to physical ones, but unless a speaker immediately incites those verbal attacks, he or she isn’t responsible: the attacker is. Any other standard of speech leads to a slippery slope in which any violence, no matter how delayed, could be used as an excuse to silence someone. Perhaps the speech laws in the UK and Canada are more stringent on this matter than they are in the U.S., but I think the U.S. is right.
Kelly is in fact a member of the perpetually offended, for she thinks Trump should be silenced because some supporters may have beaten up others at rallies. In fact, though he should be called out for saying that certain hecklers in his audience be beaten up (I’m not sure if he’s done this), it is his opponents who, by and large, have been driven to physical violence because they deplore his rhetoric and, like Kelly, want him silenced. Should Trump then be silenced because it causes his enemies to attack his supporters?
I thus agree with Rowling and not with Kelly. If Trump calls for people to attack others immediately, and that happens immediately, he is not protected by America’s freedom-of-speech laws. But if, at some later time, someone, inspired by what he said, causes violence, Trump is protected. If he wasn’t, any Christian preacher or Muslim imam who decries homosexuality could be silenced if his words cause someone to attack gays. One can always draw a tenuous connection between someone’s words and somebody else’s acts.
It looks as if the “hate speech equals violence” trope has made its way eastward across the Atlantic. It’s bad enough when misguided college students promote this idea, but if it infects democratic governments it would be a disasters.