Free speech and America’s escalating crisis of Trumpist insanity

Trump’s 2016 election put America, and what it represents, into a crisis that has only escalated. Every time we think we’ve seen the bottom, we’re proven wrong. Now he’s been impeached for incitement to insurrection, a violent attack on the Capitol demanding overthrow of our presidential election. Which 147 Congressional Republicans then obeyed.

Yet even after this shocking perfidy, Trump’s approval ratings are still between 29% and 39%. For a job he isn’t even doing. While covid rages and the economy craters, he’s been focused on trying to subvert the election and handing out pardons to criminals and medals to sycophants. And a third of Americans approve? Are they insane? 

Many wonder what he was thinking, urging his mob to attack the Capitol. That this might somehow keep him in office? But Trump’s never had a clue how our government and politics actually work. While pundits still talk as if there must be some calculated plan, the truth is simpler: he’s insane.

Many supporters don’t merely “approve” but worship him, as god-emperor — battling a deep state conspiracy of Satanic baby-eating pedophiles, according to Q-Anon, which millions believe. So they storm our sacred Capitol, smearing it with feces, carrying racist flags and weapons and bombs, assaulting policemen, screaming for heads on pikes and for hanging the Vice President, erecting the gallows. It was a close-run thing that no elected officials died. The attackers called themselves “patriots.” And Trump afterward sent them “love.”

We’re told the Republican party is splitting between Trumpism and sanity. But it’s still a very lopsided division; the great majority of GOP voters remain gaga. Just ten in the House backed impeachment. One serious observer suggests some of the rest feared being killed by fanatics in their own voting base. Meantime, now even members of Congress must go through metal detectors after at least one Republican brought a gun into the chamber.

All this might be less insane if centered upon some arguably noble heroic figure, a Pericles, a Napoleon. But this guy?? Vicious, depraved, degraded, a lying con man. Trumpsuckers can’t see the obvious. The word insane hardly suffices.

He rode to power exploiting widespread grievances with at least some tether to reality. Efforts for Black equality are not a figment of Trumpist imagination. Now though, it’s foaming-mouth fury at this “stolen election” idea, totally divorced from Planet Earth. But for them, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

And so they stormed the Capitol. Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

The internet and social media loom large here, spreading the poison. On Thursday I was asked by ex-Gov. Deval Patrick to attend a zoom, with Media Matters for America, discussing Facebook, Twitter, etc., banning Trump, part of a broader crackdown on right-wing extremist content. A video showed some hair-raising examples, including major Fox creeps talking up violence as a somehow legitimate recourse.

I pointed out that “conservatives” have long alleged silencing by opinion gatekeepers, making free speech an issue. And they certainly have a point regarding academia, punitively enforcing ideological conformity. Yet MMA’s presentation was all about suppressing right-wing content. What about trying to bring these people back to sanity? MMA’s president Angelo Carusone answered that major platforms have actually failed to enforce their own rules, enabling extremist advocates to “cheat,” and that’s what’s being targeted.

I am almost absolutist about freedom of speech. With Jefferson, holding that the answer for bad ideas is not censorship but better ones. Banning anyone — especially the President! — from a public platform is troubling. Ones like Facebook and Twitter do have too much power over the landscape of public debate. However, what the First Amendment bars is government restricting speech, which is not at issue here. And while everyone has a right to speak, nobody is entitled to a megaphone provided by someone else. In this case, banning Trump and other incendiary extremists is the right thing to do.

I began by saying America’s been in crisis. Disinformation is a key aspect, shredding our civic culture. We can’t have rational discourse without some shared reality. Bad enough being polarized over genuine issues; now it’s over what’s simply a lie. Many millions deranged by this pernicious “stolen election” nonsense, stoked to insurrectionary violence. Yes, we must try to coax them to sanity. But first at least turn off the fire-hose fueling the madness.

It won’t end soon. Trumpsters see January 6 not as a climactic disaster, but a galvanizing call to arms. They will be raging again tomorrow, and vow inauguration day trouble in all fifty state capitals. Some say President-elect Biden should avoid danger and forgo an outdoor public ceremony. I strongly disagree. Traditions matter. Normalcy — sanity — must be restored — and seen to be restored.

There will be ample security. Better include anti-aircraft guns. Not a joke.

7 Responses to “Free speech and America’s escalating crisis of Trumpist insanity”

  1. JD Says:

    I’ve tried rationalizing with Trump cultists. I’ve found it to be impossible. They have a (logically incoherent) dodge for every point raised. It’s turtles all the way down. I’m at a loss at how to fix this.

  2. Brendan Birth Says:

    You’ve made an important distinction re: the First Amendment, about how it only keeps the government from restricting free speech. Social media is a whole other can of worms. Social media has terms and conditions which you agree to when you sign up, and if you get banned for violating terms and conditions then the issue is your inability to follow terms and conditions.

  3. Don Bronkema Says:

    Mr. B: We grammar-nazis insist media is plural [o/wise, bravo]. Likewise, ‘kudos’ is Greek-singular, ‘decimate’ actually means nonimate, few events are incredible etc. Viz. Fowler, Blair, Strunk & White. Lingos provolve, but must not be corrupted, lest terror be unleashed. Maldiction eventuates in malediction & kultur-gulag.

  4. Don Bronkema Says:

    Prof. Robinson: Nonagenarian respondent is tempted to unleash more billingsgate, but a glance thru his 156,410-pp file [1948-2021] suggests we should stiffen our spines. Reichsfuhrer Trump will fade into history if, despite him, history happens. Absent one of 14 cosmo-terrestrial calamities, Man will likely persist for millennia, if not aeons, provolving to N interstellar species & genera–& then perish. Not that it matters: mentation & volition, per Libet & koch, are spurious–the Ontos itself is quasi-fictive: each entity conjuring the rest. Brahma stirs: waking, will he affirm the ground-state? Vide: L’Etre et Le Neant [Sartre, Paris, 1943]–brilliant but insufficient. Philosophy detached from cosmogony is basura [viz. junior colleague N. Bostrom, Oxford].

  5. Roger Says:

    He TOLD us in 2016 that the election was rigged if he had lost. He said the same thing c Aug 2020 and had his henchman rough up the USPS. In some ways, he’s been incredibly transparent.

  6. Lee Says:

    I agree with your conclusion that the large corporations that blocked Trump (and Parler, etc.) are acting appropriately, but I do not agree with your reasoning.

    Large corporations wield tremendous power and it is scary because they are not elected to those positions of power. That they can cripple the voices of certain political factions is very much a negative. (And no, the constitutionally protected alternative of going to the town square and standing on a soap box does not negate this crippling effect.) Although the first amendment does not apply to these corporations, ethics do apply, and it is inappropriate for them to silence specific groups or political causes. (Macy’s should sell shirts even to Black Panthers and Neo-Nazis. Restaurants cannot have whites-only-seating. Wedding cake makers should make cakes even for gay couples. Malls should allow transgender people to go to the bathroom.)

    However, the first amendment does not guarantee the right to falsely shout “fire” in a crowded movie theater, and such unethical behavior is properly illegal. Neither the first amendment nor ethics protect the right to incite violent insurrection. In this case, the large corporations have chosen the ethical path. Bravo!

  7. Don Bronkema Says:

    Hark to the music of the spheres!
    1. Restore ‘fairness’, call it Equity Doctrine [each medium must pub arguments of leading factions].
    2. Apply Sherman Act: break up media conglomerates; liberate isolated communities suffocated by Sinclair Radio [zombilacrum of C. Lindburg, Father Coughlin, Fritz Kuhn et tels fascistes].
    3. Pour the caissons, divert Xi-tide of social-credit hyperveillance.
    4. Re-install civics in classrooms, gratis MAP in corridor dispensers.
    5. Decatenate H. semper unsapiens–obliterate religion, jingoism, capitalism, hegemonism, racism, misogyny & prodigality. Terraform Mars. Drang nach spaatzen und Kardashoff!

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