"What are the defenders of free speech to do? The sad fact is that this fundamental freedom is on its heels across America. Politicians of both parties want to use the power of government to silence their foes. Some in the university community seek to drive it from their campuses. And an entire generation of Americans is being taught that free speech should be curtailed as soon as it makes someone else feel uncomfortable. On the current trajectory, our nation's dynamic marketplace of ideas will soon be replaced by either disengaged intellectual silos or even a stagnant ideological conformity. Few things would be so disastrous for our nation and the well-being of our citizenry."—William Ruger, "Free Speech Is Central to Our Dignity as Humans"
My hometown of Charlottesville, Va., has become the latest poster child in a heated war of words—and actions—over racism, "sanitizing history," extremism (both right and left), political correctness, hate speech, partisan politics, and a growing fear that violent words will end in violent actions.
In Charlottesville, as in so many parts of the country right now, the conflict is over how to reconcile the nation's checkered past, particularly as it relates to slavery, with the present need to sanitize the environment of anything—words and images—that might cause offense, especially if it's a Confederate flag or monument.
In Charlottesville, that fear of offense prompted the City Council to get rid of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that has graced one of its public parks for 82 years. In doing so, they have attracted the unwanted attention of the Ku Klux Klan.
Yale University actually went so far as to change the name of one of its residential colleges, which was named after John C. Calhoun, the nation's seventh vice president, a secretary of state, secretary of war, senator and Yale alum who supported slavery.
New Orleans ran up a $2 million tab in its efforts to remove its four Confederate monuments, with the majority of the funds being used for security to police the ensuing protests and demonstrations.
With more than 1,000 Confederate monuments in 31 states (in public parks, courthouse squares and state capitols), not to mention Confederate battle flags on display in military cemeteries, and countless more buildings and parks named after historic figures who were slaveholders, this isn't an issue that is going away anytime soon, no matter how much we ignore it, shout over it, criminalize it, legislate it, adjudicate or police it.
The temperature is rising all across the nation, and not just over this Confederate issue.
The "winter of our discontent" has given way to an overheated, sweltering summer in which shouting matches are skating dangerously close to becoming physical altercations.
As journalist Dahlia Lithwick writes for Slate, "These days, people who used to feel free to shout and threaten are emboldened to punch, body-slam, and stab. It is a short hop, we are learning, from 'words can never hurt us' to actual sticks and stones and the attendant breaking of bones. That is what has become of free speech in this country."
Here's the thing: if Americans don't learn how to get along—at the very least, agreeing to disagree and respecting each other's right to subscribe to beliefs and opinions that may be offensive, hateful, intolerant or merely different—then we're going to soon find that we have no rights whatsoever (to speak, assemble, agree, disagree, protest, opt in, opt out, or forge our own paths as individuals).
The government will lock down the nation at the slightest provocation.
It is ready, willing and able to impose martial law within 24 hours.
Indeed, the government has been anticipating and preparing for civil unrest for years now, as evidenced by the build-up of guns and tanks and militarized police and military training drills and threat assessments and extremism reports and surveillance systems and private prisons.
Connect the dots, people.
The government doesn't care about who you voted for in the presidential election or whether you think the Civil War was fought over states' rights versus slavery. It doesn't care about your race or gender or religion or sexual orientation.
When the police state cracks down, it will not discriminate.
We'll all be muzzled together.
We'll all be jailed together.
We'll all be viewed as a collective enemy to be catalogued, conquered and caged.