Politics & Media
Jul 03, 2024, 06:27AM

A Quiet Place to Die

A dozen more blows to free speech to go with your dozen wiener rolls.

Trump biden debate.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

Leaders from both of the major political factions issue threats at the rest of the population. Whether those threats are shouted from a bully pulpit or mumbled as if from Nosferatu’s coffin, the message is basically that the rest of us should shut up and obey.

I’ve said plenty about the politically-correct left trying to censor its foes—and in the five weekly columns I’m dedicating to the topic of free speech this month, I will again—but to show I perceive danger on all sides, not just the left, below are a dozen examples of somewhat right-leaning or capitalist entities trying to silence people. Eternal vigilance, my friends.

Many on the right, especially younger activists, are pleased blogger Julian Assange has been released from custody after years of espionage charges hanging over his head. Biden law enforcement accepted Assange’s guilty plea and treated his five years in U.K. incarceration as time served, meaning he’s home in Australia now, even as we celebrate our own Independence Day. Some hope that if Trump’s elected in November, he’ll release online-black-market operator Ross Ulbricht. Trump well may, but before this leaves too many on the right painting themselves as tolerant, anti-government liberators, keep in mind it was decades of the U.S.’s merciless enforcement of military secrets and its ongoing war against drugs, respectively, that put these two men at odds with law in the first place. Better a hippie ethos than this rigidity—though luckily, those are not our only two choices.

Apparently, many in the intelligence community knew four years ago—just prior to the 2020 election, crucially—that Hunter Biden’s scandalous laptop contents were most likely real, not mere products of a Russian disinfo campaign. Even Trump-era CIA higher-ups such as Gina Haspel apparently knew. The right and left alike may for now draw the narrow lesson that the Bidens have had unfair political and legal advantages. They should also draw the more sweeping lesson that the U.S. intelligence sector is corrupt and can’t be trusted. I took some consolation for a moment from the news that Trump, if reelected, wants a military tribunal to put Cheney on trial for treason, but then I realized that of course he means he wants personal vengeance against Liz Cheney for holding hearings that embarrassed Trump, not a reckoning against former Vice President Dick Cheney for encouraging biased intel during the Iraq War.

After a few years of establishment figures whining about overheated public discourse, I think last week we all saw the power of public debates to inform, as even the most liberal members of the public were forced to accept that President Biden is fading physically and mentally. But did we get to see the dissident Democrat alternative, Robert F. Kennedy in that debate? Not quite, as he narrowly failed to meet the TV networks’ standards for inclusion. As with so many things about the mainstream media, his diminished public profile will now appear a self-fulfilling prophecy that you can safely ignore whatever the once-respectable media ignore and choose from what they deign to highlight. (It was great to see a libertarian-leaning New York Times reporter interview the alert, young, and intelligent Libertarian presidential candidate Chase Oliver, but he’ll probably only get attention like that from media figures who hope he’ll hurt whichever major-party candidate they dislike.)

R.I.P. Kinky Friedman, the hippie-era activist and freedom-lover who once ran for president himself—and while I’m acknowledging him, I should take the rare opportunity to praise an article from a few years ago in the Brooklyn leftist magazine Jacobin, which I’ve so often derided. They did a fine job of tracing the history of multiple political factions with a common interest in freedom (of one kind or another) mingling in Austin, TX, where Friedman was a fixture, where today Musk and Marxists rub elbows, and where even a few of my former New York City anarcho-capitalist associates have settled (and gotten more populist). Keep Austin weird, indeed. The libertarians there are sort of a laissez-faire enclave within a leftist city within a conservative state. Beats total homogeneity, anyway.

In other latter-day-hippie news, Russell Brand, whatever you may think of him, rightly asked last month whether mainstream media constantly warn you away from fringe figures such as RFK, Tucker Carlson, and (Austin’s) Alex Jones because the mainstream media figures are genuinely worried your fragile mind will imbibe misinformation such as bad health advice or in large part simply because they don’t want rivals for your attention—or for sponsors' advertising dollars. Call the media an evil leftist combine if you like, but they’re definitely a business as well.

With that simple fact in mind—which isn’t a commie thought but merely a thoroughly market-savvy recognition of incentives—we’re allowed to worry a bit when, say, normally outspoken libertarian pundit Kat Timpf is put in the awkward position of doing a promotional tour for her book about censorship while being pressured by her creepy bosses at Fox News to evade any questions about Tucker Carlson getting fired, reducing her to vague, faux-apathetic dismissals about how “I can’t speak to that.” It’s similarly fair—and hardly an endorsement of socialism—to wonder whether NBC reporting in a sad-sounding way on the Supreme Court’s scuttling of a big settlement offer from pharma to plaintiffs harmed by opioid use is motivated by NBC’s intense sympathy for opioid addicts or rather by the fact that big pharma, with its ample news show advertising buys, really wanted the enactment of the part of that settlement deal that would’ve legally shielded pharma from future liability suits. And given how popular his videos mocking bad Disney projects are, the YouTuber Critical Drinker may be right to think Disney is being disingenuous and P.R.-focused if it accuses him of inciting violence against the company. Better a capitalist authority than a Stalinist authority, but just barely sometimes.

It's probably for the best that the Supreme Court found Trump legally immune when out of office for actions taken in pursuit of his presidential duties—impeachment traditionally the remedy for crimes committed in office—and that a police officer who helped some J6 protestors wasn’t considered guilty of obstruction for doing so. I’m even more happy, though, that the so-called Chevron Deference, by which regulatory agencies got to do virtually anything they wanted so long as it fit their legally-ill-defined missions, was struck down by the Supreme Court. It hasn’t all been good news from the Court in the past week, though, since it decided plaintiffs lacked standing to sue in a case over whether the government encroached on the First Amendment when it pressured social media companies to censor. The establishment/neocon-like justices Barrett, Roberts, and Kavanaugh joined the Court’s three liberals in telling the government to go ahead and outsource its censoring, while the arguably-sometimes-more-libertarian justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Alito dissented.

Right-wing cranks undeniably do some good in this world. I’m even amused by Alito’s wife reportedly flying radical flags and pissing off the neighbors while her husband tries to maintain some air of professional respectability—and obviously I love things like the giant June 24 anti-Federal Reserve ad taken out in the Wall Street Journal by the free-market Ludwig Von Mises Institute (the same day the ransomware group LockBit claims to have hacked 33 terabytes of data from the Federal Reserve, coincidentally or not). But even when leftists are obnoxious, we must be skeptical of using the power of government against them, as with mounting government mandates to investigate campus anti-Semitism and generally ensure a psychologically non-hostile environment. Not a good precedent, no matter how much one loves Israel, as pundits who are usually critics of campus speech codes should know. Arrest violent or imminent-threat-making activists by all means, expel the classroom-blockers and speech-event-disruptors, but leave the rest to the arena of public opinion, as each college sees fit, never encouraging government bureaucrats to micromanage the fray.

The Chevron Deference was usually defended by environmentalists who love regulatory micromanagement, but lest you think onerous regulations can’t be caused by right-wing impulses, consider New York City only this year altering zoning regulations that had combined with a 98-year-old ban on dancing in bars here to keep who knows how many pleasantly drunk couples from moving to the music, even after the ban’s formal repeal in 2017. The law didn’t get put into place a century ago for some crackpot lefty reason, either. In 1926, it was viewed as a good way to crack down on speakeasies and the Harlem Renaissance. Even in hip New York City, a mere century ago, the establishment couldn’t abide blacks dancing and consuming mind-altering substances. Everyone should feel free to do both without worrying about someone like Rudy Giuliani cutting in. (Reject such controls on human beings—and all the other controls aside from the prevention of assault, theft, and fraud—whether you think the targets lean left and the enforcers right or vice versa.)

Speaking of places with fascist tendencies, it appears Germany is now so hypersensitive about marginalizing immigrants that it may mete out a harsher sentence to a woman who criticized a group of Muslim immigrants than to the rapists among them who attacked a 12-year-old.

Of course, the moment you defend someone who criticized Islam, you run the risk of encouraging our own country’s Christian theocrats, some of whom are now delighted to see Oklahoma mandating teaching of the Bible in schools and Louisiana mandating display of the Ten Commandments. Mandates are evil. If conservatives really loved this country’s traditions, they would remember that.

Still, there are worse things, like Ukraine’s war against antiwar journalists. On balance, we don’t live in such a bad country. May it remain noisy from opinionated voices, not from government proclamations, bomb blasts, or the barked orders of the military, man.

Todd Seavey is the author of Libertarianism for Beginners and is on X at @ToddSeavey


Register or Login to leave a comment