Being an opinion writer opens the floodgates for all sorts of criticism. I should know- I’ve been personally insulted and demeaned, had professors insinuate my political opinions would preclude me from employment and even, during my undergraduate days, been told that my conservatism should get me thrown out of my journalism degree program.
Despite all this, I have never once had the urge to retaliate against detractors. In fact, I welcome the vitriol; it highlights how petty and inadequate certain arguments are. It reveals the character of those who espouse specific ideologies. In many cases the dissonance between carefully rationalized and articulated arguments and the facile, petty rage which lashes out in response make a more substantive point than the ins and outs of a specific argument. It highlights the character of adherents to specific ideologies. This airing of behaviors is perhaps the single most important function of free expression.
Yes, it sometimes protects dishonesty and ugliness. But, in a free society, private citizens must accept that is only possible to the degree they allow it. Their continued patronage of news and opinion sources which engage in pejorative-driven screeds masquerading as philosophical discourse or sober analysis is an endorsement of such practices and they must be prepared to accept the consequences for society.
To argue that the potential of harm the free press’s excesses have over individuals or events demands public action is to argue for nothing less than fascism. Such a term is not extreme, just as to suggest that censorship, even if it is a “soft,” moralistic form of censorship, is not over-the-top hyperbole. Fascism is absolute control, in direct opposition to the absolute anarchy of freedom of speech.
Media, at least in America, has grown organically to fill the vast and wild plains of the public sphere. So too would regulation grow to fill this space should fascism be endorsed by those who argue for protection of people’s reputations or interests.
Except, whereas the laws of competition which govern anarchical models allow different entities to exert power and influence, creating opposition which helps prevent each from gaining enough power to destroy the others, fascism centralizes power and influence. It institutionalizes a single point of view and silences all others. This is not simply a flaw in the system; it is the inevitable end of the system. There are no checks and balances which prevent individual excess from decimating opponents. And suppression is the inevitable end. Every act of dissonance is a threat to the supremacy of the system. It becomes a moral act of survival to destroy opposition.
Again, this vision of apocalyptic is extreme. But it is not extremist for it is simply the end which the immutable laws of nature make inevitable.
The urge, ethical though it may seem, to regulate speech must never be accepted. Editorial independence is a cornerstone of freedom. Cede it and the seminal ideas of the nation are lost, abdicated to the kind of omnipotent central authority which are so antithetical to American democracy.
Yet, it is precisely this which Donald Trump represents. In promising to open up libel laws ostensibly to hold the media accountable, he does not protect anyone’s rights. He implies that his discretion, his interpretation of the world, is over and above the media’s. They hold their position on the terms he, in a power of position, would dictate. There is an eerie attitude of medieval patronage, where the artist’s whole existence hinges on the beneficence of a master, to this. This is the terrifying face of fascism, softened by morality perhaps, but chilling all the same.
More scary still is the consideration that Trump, even supposing he is as well-intentioned as he claims, will not hold that power forever. Yet, the power remains, leaving the possibility open for something worse, something far more petty and vindictive to exploit it.
Once enacted, regulation of this sort, which scrapes way at free speech by defining and conditioning it, cannot be undone. The very possibility that a presidential candidate could espouse a fascistic rationale as Trump has done cannot be countenanced. His statements reveals a thorough ignorance of liberalism. Couple this with Trump’s megalomania, his immediate attack and dismissal of anyone who criticizes him, and he should be disavowed utterly as a danger to the nation.