Free Speech Tested

Those of us who advocate free speech and believe that freedom applies even to cranks, crazies and congenitally disposed-to-lie presidents have quite an on-going test these days. What’s going on is exposing ever-more fissures developing between the political left and right.

First it was Roseanne, she of noxious conspiracy theories and racist tweets, who compared former White House official and African American woman Valerie Jarrett to an ape. That was “vile and vicious” indeed, and her employer ABC promptly fired her. And while Roseanne had every right to say what she did, merely confirming her blatant racism, her employer had every right to permit her to feel the consequences right away. Liberals applauded, the Trump White House could not manage to offer a single word about it.

A few days later when TV comic and commentator Samantha Bee called the president’s daughter a very ugly “c” word, the White House was quick to label the remark “vile and vicious.” Thats because she’s perceived as a liberal, and conservatives jumped aboard the blame express, the same they missed with Roseanne. Samantha Bee of course had every right to say what she did even though it was vulgar. Whether or not she pays a similar price as Roseanne remains to be seen.

What stands out from this, unfortunately, is that we are so terribly polarized in every aspect of our society that we can no longer acknowledge what’s wrong unless it happens to the other side. And the actions of the President of the United States makes this even more egregious by his choosing to ignore and failing to condemn racist words and behaviors (remember his comments about the Nazi white supremacists in Virginia last year?).

Maybe Roseanne felt is was ok to say what she did because she’s only following in the path trampled by the president. Maybe Samantha Bee felt she could say what she did because the level of public discourse has rarely been so low. Whatever the case, these incidents contribute to the poisoning our democracy. They are shameful and they demean us all.