Remember in 2013 how it seemed for three seconds like Rand Paul might be a competitive presidential candidate?
I know you’re saying “no, not really,” but I’m telling you. For three, maybe even four seconds, it looked like grassroots Republicans were semi-serious about “conservatarianism.” How young we were then.
In reality this is a mostly reactionary nationalist party and its priorities on speech apparently increasingly reflect that. If you believe the Cato Institute, not only do a heavy majority of Republicans want flag-burning banned, they want flag-burners to lose their U.S. citizenship, a penalty almost unheard of under federal law.
According to the topline poll results (to which I received advance access), 72 percent of Republicans would support making it illegal for an American to burn or desecrate the flag. A little more than half of Republicans would punish the desecrators by stripping them of their U.S. citizenship, something Donald Trump suggested (to great and deserved indignation) a few weeks after he won the election last November.
Most GOPers recognize, at least in theory, that disfavored speech should still be protected: Around seven in 10 agree with the statement that “people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people,” compared to less than five in 10 Democrats. Nonetheless, 36 percent of Republicans would support prohibiting offensive public statements aimed at the police, and the same number would ban such comments aimed at the military. By comparison, just 24 percent would outlaw offensive speech aimed at gays, lesbians, and transgender people.
Banning flag-burning is an old debate, resolved nearly 30 years ago on the Supreme Court when Antonin Scalia provided the fifth vote for finding flag desecration to be protected speech under the First Amendment. Stripping flag-burners of citizenship is fringier but, as noted in the excerpt, not so fringy that it didn’t occur to the president of the United States while he was grooving on outrage one morning over his bowl of corn flakes while watching “Fox & Friends.” Banning “offensive” statements about the police is a new one on me, though. If you’d asked me how many hardcore authoritarians there were on the right willing to sign off on that, I’d have crossed my fingers and guessed no more than 10 percent. *Hopefully*, by “offensive,” people who support a ban mean out-and-out threats to kill cops and not anything more restrained and meritorious.
Don’t worry, though. It’s not just Republicans whose commitment to classical liberal values has collapsed:
Lefties, too, hold many lamentable views regarding the legal and cultural importance of free expression in America. Fully half of Democrats think that “government should prevent people from engaging in hate speech against certain groups in public.” Some 53 percent say that defending someone else’s right “to say racist things” is just as condemnable as “holding racist views yourself.” Two in three believe offensive speech constitutes an act of violence, and the same number feel that college administrators “have an obligation to protect students from speech and ideas that could create a difficult learning environment.”
We already knew Democrats were terrible on the topic of “hate speech” but I hadn’t realized that fully two-thirds have digested the pernicious idea that offensive speech is “violence.” That’s a fast track to gutting the First Amendment if it catches on across the population, as it seems to have done on the left. Arguing that certain types of speech should be banned but not others is hard because the slippery slope problem occurs to everyone and Americans have had the gloriousness of freedom of speech in the abstract drummed into them since elementary school. If you can move the debate out of the “speech” realm entirely, though, then you’ve got a foothold. Of course the First Amendment protects speech, but it surely doesn’t protect “violence.” And hate speech, when you think about it, is a form of violence towards the marginalized and vulnerable, no?
Also from this poll: Nearly half of Republicans support banning the construction of mosques in their neighborhoods and 63 percent call the press “an enemy of the American people,” with GOPers splitting 50/31 when asked if the press has “too much” freedom. Neither of those results is surprising, as Trump has egged on both reactions and some polls have showed considerably higher support on the right for treating the media as a public enemy. (We’re mellowing!) But it’s worth remembering as you ooh and ahh today over the mind-bending chronicles of sleazebag predator Harvey Weinstein that a press that was already reluctant to break that story would have had even more trouble doing so with stricter libel laws. That’s what Trump’s been after in his own criticisms of the media, that defamation should have a lower bar for public figures. Weinstein no doubt eagerly agrees.
Exit question: How much longer before the GOP pushes a new flag-burning amendment? Over/under is six months before the midterms.