February 23, 2021

Waking Up to the Free Speech Threat

By attacking our ability to speak freely, the Left is also attacking our fundamental means of human flourishing.

Redlining is a little-understood term with a sorry history in this country. According to Wikipedia, it involves “the systematic denial of various services or goods … either directly or through the selective raising of prices.”

So when you think “traditional redlining,” think: “keeping blacks out of certain neighborhoods by denying them mortgages or home improvement loans.”

But when you think “political redlining,” think: “keeping conservatives from expressing themselves in the marketplace of ideas by denying them access to social media platforms and financial services.”

Our Mark Alexander wrote about this modern-day form of redlining last month, but few others, even in conservative circles, have picked up on it. That’s a mistake, because it’s a powerful weapon being used for the worst of purposes — the denial of our right to speak freely.

“When Americans are targeted because of their constitutionally protected political and/or religious views,” Alexander writes, “leading to coordinated efforts to deplatform and then defund those individuals and businesses when financial institutions selectively refuse services, it constitutes a new form of ‘redlining’ in violation of their most fundamental civil rights. Without a Republican gauntlet, there will be a considerable surge in the systemic redline suppression of fundamental civil rights.”

And we’re mistaken if we think political redlining begins and ends with free speech. There’s another civil right — the right to defend oneself — that’s also being targeted by the Left. The Biden administration is planning to revive Barack Obama’s infamous Operation Choke Point, a 2013 scheme by which the Department of Justice investigated U.S. banks and the business they did with firearm dealers and other inconvenient businesses, ostensibly because they were believed to be at a high risk for fraud and money laundering. Essentially, the Obama administration was trying to deny several legal industries even basic access to the banking system.

As the American Enterprise Institute’s Benjamin Zycher writes, “That is why Choke Point and similar gameplaying in the capital market is ideal for the political left: No formal rule is being violated, the banks are in no position to resist, and the borrowers have no recourse. Equality under the law is thrown out the window because the left fundamentally believes in nothing as much as its own political power, while the bureaucracy — much ignored in the reality that it is an important interest group — is left to enhance its own powers at the expense of market forces.”

“Restriction of free thought and free speech,” said liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, “is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.”

Douglas, an FDR appointee, served for 36 years on the High Court. And he served back in an era when the term “liberal” was used in the classical sense; when it stood for the protection of civil liberties and limitations on central government power. Where, you ask, are today’s classical liberals? They’re called constitutional conservatives.

Today’s Big Tech censors and their speech-suppressing brethren on the Left would do well to consider Justice Douglas’s warning. Where free speech is concerned, we’re heading off a cliff.

As Brendan O'Neill writes in the UK publication Spiked, “It is undeniable that we live in a society where freedom of expression is in crisis. Whether we are being censored by the state, by self-styled guardians of correct-thinking, by mobs or by ourselves, we are being censored. And this matters. It matters because, at both the individual level and the social level, freedom of speech is essential to human flourishing. Freedom of speech gives real power to the individual. It liberates us not only to express our own views — which is of course incredibly important — but also to listen to the views of everyone else and to use our mental and moral muscles to decide for ourselves if what they are saying is right or wrong. … Censorship, by contrast, infantilizes us, weakening our mental and moral muscles by inviting us to rely instead on the judgments of our superiors.”

Big Tech and the Left are indeed weakening our mental and moral muscles — by way of censorship, deplatforming, and political redlining. The question is: Do good and decent people across the political spectrum have the guts to say Enough! before it’s too late?

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