“I don’t know of a civilization in the history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in a country absolutely hate the other half of the people in it.” — Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
I’m starting this piece with two conflicting pieces of advice, you should listen to people you disagree with, but you don’t have to.
One of my favorite activities is to talk to conservatives with who I can have a reasonable conversation. By reasonable, I mean that we both listen to one another, agree that we’re not going to agree from the start, and then keep being friends after that. Sometimes, I get to engage in such activities, and it is always an enlightening experience as I learn about their points of view that I never considered inside my own bubble. I have liberal friends who would argue that these men are Nazis and shouldn’t humor their viewpoints, but I disagree. If I’m an asshole to all Republicans, then I’m only reinforcing their viewpoint that all Democrats are evil. If I’m nice to one… well, I know that I’m not going to persuade them to my side of thinking, but I might make a friend out of it, and that will start the ball rolling that not all Democrats are existential threats to America. Also, having a new friend improves both our lives in concrete ways!
Speaking of persuasion, I don’t believe it’s feasible in today’s society because most people use social media. On social media, mighty artificial intelligence is constantly changing its algorithm to send you more links, articles, and videos to keep you engaged and looking at your phone. Even if I like the same stuff as a friend might, I’m not going to see the same stuff. If I like Vox.com, and I do, and a friend likes Vox.com on Facebook or Twitter, there is virtually no chance that we see the same articles on our social media feeds. I get fed the ones that I am more likely to read, and my friend gets fed what they are most likely to click on because the programs are engineered to make the most money off our attention.
Since social media is powered by extremely advanced AI trying to keep us engaged, it constantly gives us what we already believe in, reinforcing our beliefs further. Being told something repeatedly is the best way to teach someone anything, which is why Americans are so polarized and extreme in their viewpoints. Social media has tapped into human psychology at a primal level and gives us pleasure the same way a slot machine works (there’s always a chance there could be more, and something exciting will happen). This is the reason why I see political campaigns as basically pointless; I can’t convince anyone of anything with one interaction when they’ve already had thousands of interactions with their phones reinforcing what they already believe.
Let us get back to conversations with conservatives and the main point of this article. If I think about the last three conversations I have had with white, millennial conservatives, I always ask them some variety of the same questions. What is most important to you? What issues would you most like solved? If you could pass some legislation, what would you do? I ask these questions because my main critique of modern Trumpism/conservatism is that they have no positive policy agenda and the answers I get reinforce that viewpoint. I would like to know how they would like to use the government to improve people’s lives in any manner.
The answers have always been the same. One said, “supporting President Trump!” but he told me free speech, cancel culture, and political correctness when I dug further. Another gave me the same viewpoints, as did the third, but the third added that he was concerned about the high level of abortions in inner cities, which is an issue I never considered! However, it still isn’t an issue that can be solved legislatively, so why did they all care so much about maintaining control of the government?
I unintentionally angered one of them when I pressed him on free speech and cancel culture, saying that the problem can’t be solved legislatively. That’s a cultural issue. He didn’t even understand what I meant. You can’t write legislation that would force college campuses to allow conservative speakers to speak. There is no way of writing legislation that would force colleges to allow Republicans on campus to speak to a broad audience because all laws have to have some sort of constitutional argument in favor of them. The 14th amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, so changing an aspect of liberal college campuses is a cultural issue; just like inner-city abortions could be seen as an individual responsibility issue, you can’t legislate a culture change. However, let’s say that they did. There is no way of forcing college students to attend.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The keyword there is Congress as the first amendment does not mean that people have to listen to you or that internet platforms or college campuses have to allow you to say what you want to say. I disagree with the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case as it allows unlimited political spending on elections in the form of Super PACs. The ruling declared that corporations are people and money is speech. Therefore the government cannot limit speech in federal elections.
I would argue that since corporations are people and something as trivial as money is considered speech, censoring conservatives on their social media platforms is also considered speech. Twitter is a private company that owns the platform, and it is exercising its own free speech by choosing not to allow hate speech. The speech could be any political statement! Not listening to someone could be just as much considered speech as speaking itself.
Also, the argument “well I have free speech so I can say whatever I want” is, well… really bad! Just because you can say something doesn’t mean that it needs to be said and using that argument basically says that you have nothing of value to say. A podcast I was listening to today was interviewing a state Representative in Michigan, asking him why he signed on to a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to overturn the election results. One of the arguments he gave was, “well, I still have free speech don’t I.” If the government forced colleges to have conservatives on campus, can’t I make the argument that I should be allowed to go up on stage and fart loudly into the microphone? No? Well, I have free speech, don’t I?
Let us go back to the world where a law is passed stating that Republicans cannot be denied a place to speak on campus, and only Republicans have to be allowed in. This is functionally affirmative action for Republicans. It’s also worse in a way than the government censoring free speech. In the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision, the court decided that since money is speech and labor union dues are mandatory, that it should be illegal for the government to mandate that government workers contribute to a labor union as these public-sector unions are forcing their employees to engage in speech that they might disagree with.
While I was disappointed by the decision from a political standpoint, from a practical standpoint, if the shoe was on the other foot, I agree with it. I disagreed politically as public unions support Democrats, but let’s say that I was working for a conservative company like Koch Industries. If Koch decided to make a payroll deduction for donating to their Super PAC, I would be pissed! It could be the same scenario that their lobbying would make it more likely that my job sticks around, much as union dues work, but if I disagree with Koch Industries’ political viewpoints, why should I be forced to support them?
If there was a law or Supreme Court decision that both said that Republicans have to be allowed to say whatever they want and forced people to listen? How would that work if the shoe was on the other foot? No one forces you to listen to Rachel Maddow or read DailyKos?.
My point goes back to the comic at the beginning of this article. If people aren’t allowed to speak, it doesn’t mean that they have lost their 1st Amendment rights. It means that people think you don’t have anything valuable to say.
And they’re showing you the door.