Hundreds of publishing officials, professors, and academics have signed a petition to blacklist Trump administration alumni from receiving book deals. It is the latest step in a rapidly expanding anti-free speech movement in the United States. In the wake of the Capitol riot, Democratic members and others are calling for a crackdown on free speech and punitive actions for those viewed as complicit with Trump. What is striking is how censorship, blacklists, and speech controls are being repackaged as righteous and virtuous. Indeed, the failure to sign such anti-free speech screeds is a precarious choice for many. It is as easy as calling for tolerance through intolerance. After all, why burn books if you can just effectively ban them?
We are coming out of the most divisive and consequential political period in modern history. Academics would ordinarily want to have insider accounts, even from those who are blamed for excesses or wrongdoing. You did not have to like Nixon to want to read his account. This is part of the intellectual mission of our profession. However, academics are lining up to silence or bar access for anyone deemed a fellow traveler with Trump. They are seeking to purge books of opposing views or accounts. The letter describes a blacklisting of anyone deemed to have “enabled, promulgated, and covered up crimes against the American people.”
Hundreds signed a letter that compares former Trump associates to seeking profits to those barred under the Son of Sam law, a law named for a serial killer. The letter declares: “We are writers, editors, journalists, agents, and professionals in multiple forms of publishing. We believe in the power of words and we are tired of the industry we love enriching the monsters among us, and we will do whatever is in our power to stop it. that.” Of course, these enablers, promulgators, and conspirators were not charged with crimes except for a hand few. Nevertheless, they are all to be given the Son of Sam treatment and blocked from book deals. What these academics and writers are unwilling to do is to allow readers to make up their own minds in whether to read the first-person accounts of the controversies of the last four years.
We have been discussing the rising threats against Trump supporters, lawyers, and officials in recent weeks from Democratic members are calling for blacklists to the Lincoln Project leading a a national effort to harass and abuse any lawyers representing the Republican party or President Trump. Others are calling for banning those “complicit” from college campuses while still others are demanding a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” to “hold Trump and his enablers accountable for the crimes they have committed.” Daily Beast editor-at-large Rick Wilson has added his own call for “humiliation,” “incarceration” and even ritualistic suicides for Trump supporters in an unhinged, vulgar column.
This is building into the most dangerous anti-free speech movement in modern history. The Red Scare was largely opposed by the media and universities. This movement has the support of both. The left is proving far better at this than the right in the McCarthy period. They are using companies to achieve what anti-communists only dreamt of in the 1950s. As I have previously written, we are witnessing the death of free speech on the Internet and on our campuses. What is particularly concerning is the common evasion used by academics and reporters that this is not really a free speech issue because these are private companies. The First Amendment is designed to address government restrictions on free speech. As a private entity, companies like Twitter or publishing houses are not the subject of that amendment. However, private companies can still destroy free speech through private censorship. It is called the “Little Brother problem.” President Trump can be chastised for converting a “Little Brother” into a “Big Brother” problem. However, that does alter the fundamental threat to free speech. This is the denial of free speech, a principle that goes beyond the First Amendment. Indeed, some of us view free speech as a human right.
Consider racial or gender discrimination. It would be wrong regardless if federal law only banned such discrimination by the government. The same is true for free speech. The First Amendment is limited to government censorship, but free speech is not limited in the same way. Those of us who believe in free speech as a human right believe that it is morally wrong to deny it as either a private or governmental entity. That does not mean that there are not differences between governmental and private actions. For example, companies may control free speech in the workplaces. They have a recognized right of free speech. However, the social media companies were created as forums for speech. Indeed, they sought immunity on the false claim that they were not making editorial decisions or engaging viewpoint regulation. No one is saying that these companies are breaking the law in denying free speech. We are saying that they are denying free speech as companies offering speech platforms.