Thoughts on free speech

Published 12:29 pm Wednesday, July 25, 2018

“Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage.” So said Winston Churchill long before the silliness of the last couple of years. A thought that few can disagree with.

There is no single reason why it has ramped up in recent years, but rather several. Political swings over the last quarter century have frustrated many, driving more and more away from the center toward the left and right. Another big change has been the advent of cable television. Once, we all received a half-hour of local and a half-hour of national news. While not necessarily coordinated, they all seemed focused a narrow band of news that like-minded folks in New York thought was important. With cable station news programming now coming to us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, competition has driven each source to find the most galvanizing stories that interest their followers. This in turn leads to outlandish activities by those who want their moment in front of the cameras. These activists care little about the wedge they drive in our society, only that they be noticed. Their activities have done more to damage every facet of our society, from race relations to class envy and hate. Each step leads to more and more resentment among us.

Another factor that this has produced with its course language is to silence those who do not want to be the target of these vile and uncivilized actions; in fear that voices of reason will appear to be siding with or against each and every extreme. If one mentions the ridiculousness of “Occupy Wall Street,” “Antifa,” “Black Lives Matter” or “Neo-Nazi,” you would be considered the enemy and become the target of their venom. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, smart young ladies at Girls State were afraid to express their conservative viewpoints because they expected to be ostracized by their peers who might look down on them for having opinions differing from theirs.

These young ladies were right to be concerned. In today’s environment, some are no longer content to argue the merits of their positions, but they want to silence those who think differently. Nothing could be worse for our democracy. Free speech and open dialogue are the basis of our society. Without open debate between the viewpoints of our citizens, it will result in some simply walking away from the political process. These will tend to be those in the middle.

Restoring civility should be the highest priority of all of us. We should work every day to temper the voices on the left and right. We should reach out to work with those that we might agree with to open conversations of how we can reach better conclusions about our future as a nation. It is not in America’s best interest to have the spectacle of Congresswoman Waters encouraging audiences to attack political opponents. Likewise, it is not wise for President Trump to ridicule those that oppose him, nor should television shows invite folks to appear on their shows for the sole purpose to berate them as Whoopi Goldberg did last week. We can all do better, and we must. We need to keep the focus on issues, not on ridiculing others on a personal level.

Frank Ruff represents Lunenburg in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.