On January 6, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt delivered what became known as “The Four Freedoms” speech. It was later illustrated by artist Norman Rockwell in a series of paintings for “The Saturday Evening Post.” In this series, I will be examining the threats to these freedoms as they are attacked by the current administration and its defiant base.
“I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” is a quote often erroneously attributed to the French philosopher, Voltaire, but actually written in 1906 by Evelyn Beatrice Hall. It defends freedom of speech as an absolute right, guaranteed in our Constitution. The meaning couldn’t be any more clear, yet we currently have an administration attacking this right on a daily basis.
The Founding Fathers wanted a debate on the foundations upon which America was established and encouraged opposing viewpoints to the status quo as a means to correct what may have been an erroneous conclusion in this “Grand Experiment” known as the United States of America.
Instead, what we currently have is an administration that stifles free speech by declaring anything that goes against their rigid dogma as “Fake News.” As a component of freedom of speech, freedom of the press is the major way that this right is expressed. They have declared the press, or at least those news sources that offer differing views, “enemies of the people.”
They restrict access to the White House by refusing to hold press conferences where they can be called out on their indiscretions. Instead, there are hastily arranged “press gaggles” on the White House lawn or impromptu helicopter conferences that precede any one of the many junkets to a campaign rally or one of Trump’s golf courses. In this way, they can avoid answering direct questions while framing the narrative to suit their own needs.
Meanwhile, we have a “leader” who steers a one-sided assault on this freedom via Twitter, where he can state his opinions without fear of direct confrontation. Often propelling this “Tweetstorm” is a news story that has been promoted by the decidedly right wing Fox “News.” Other times, his tweets are from radical right wing propaganda sources. Sadly, these tweets have been the basis of policy in this highly unconventional administration.
Freedom of speech is not without its flaws. It is this very freedom that permitted Russian trolls to exert their influence on the 2016 election. Using various internet sites, primarily Facebook and Twitter, these agents of a hostile foreign government spread baseless rumors, spun conspiracy theories and sowed distrust throughout the American populace. These attacks are being threatened for the 2020 campaign, yet this administration refuses to take steps to stop them.
While the left isn’t blameless in their denial of free speech, denying the right to former Breitbart exec Steve Bannon and ultra- right wing advocate Milo Yiannopoulos, their objections were based on a denial of a right to promote hate speech, which both speakers advocate. Like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, these speakers attempts to instill violence and hatred of others are a right that freedom of speech should not be defending.
These threats and insults continue, yet Congressional Republicans are doing nothing to halt these attacks on one of our most cherished freedoms. We must make our voices heard and take a stand at the voting booth come 2020 to protect freedom of speech.