R. Emmett Tyrrell / Mar. 4, 2021

Is Democracy About to Die in Darkness?

Those who want to take on the First Amendment should pipe down. You are in the majority today. You may be in the minority tomorrow.

Washington — We are all supposed to be against conspiracies. Yet what about a conspiracy to silence free speech? What about a conspiracy to shut down people who utter thoughts we disagree with? What about silencing communists? What about silencing Nazis? What about a conspiracy to silence Democrats or Republicans? What about silencing those who spout Trumpism? There are a lot of positions that I disagree with. There are a lot of positions that I agree with. I say, let them all be heard — but this is an old-fashioned belief, and I am increasingly out of step with the times.

On Capitol Hill, there is a move to shut down political expression, the political expression of conservatives. In the House of Representatives, the Democrats have a 10-seat majority. In the next election, that majority could be reduced. In the next election, it could even vanish. Right now, people such as Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney want to limit right-wing speech. They act as though their position in the majority will last forever. What happens if they are suddenly in the minority? Will, say, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene be able to limit their speech? Well, there are no signs that the Republicans have more than one Marjorie Taylor Greene in their number, but who knows what an election might bring?

That is why I say that those who want to take on the First Amendment should pipe down. You are in the majority today. You may be in the minority tomorrow. Actually, I think you will be in the minority tomorrow. All that will save your right to speak your mind is the libertarian streak that runs through the Republican Party.

So-called progressives began their attacks on the First Amendment by going after individuals. Through the years, they targeted Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Tucker Carlson. They tried to intimidate these conservatives’ advertisers. It worked with some advertisers, but not with enough. Hannity, Levin and Carlson are still standing. Bravo! Limbaugh has gone to a better place.

Now the progressives are going after the networks. This past week, Eshoo and McNerney threatened Fox News and Newsmax by sending letters to 12 cable and tech CEOs asking them to break their contracts with Fox and Newsmax. Later in the week, the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing about “disinformation and extremism” on conservative networks. The chairman of the subcommittee on communications and technology asseverated in his opening remarks that “it is the responsibility of this subcommittee to hold these institutions (Fox and Newsmax) to a higher standard.” So it looks like the House of Representatives is calling it open season on the First Amendment.

Actually, I have never seen a more open assault by a political party on the Bill of Rights, and I have not heard a peep of protest or even of caution from the people who have the most at stake in this assault, the media. Where are the heroic defenders of freedom of speech? It reminds me of the time I, as editor of The American Spectator, was being harassed by the federal government for suggesting that Bill Clinton was not being completely faithful to his marital vows. Shortly thereafter, I attended a lecture at which the great freedom of speech advocate Floyd Abrams held forth on the beauty of the free society, the nobleness of untrammeled expression, that sort of thing. Well, I recalled how silent Abrams was during the government’s harassment of our magazine. So, I went up to the great man when he was finished and asked him why he never uttered such poetry about The American Spectator. Floyd never missed a beat. He said something to the effect of, “Because you, Tyrrell, never listen.” I had never spoken a word with him before and never have spoken a word with him since. I have no idea what he was talking about.

Let us see how long it takes the media to wake up to the threat the Democrats are posing to the media’s freedom. We all have heard what a grave threat Sen. Joseph McCarthy was to freedom of speech in the 1950s. He became one of the most famous figures in American history by threatening free speech. Now you have dozens of Democrats threatening whole networks, and no one has complained, not even in the media. What happened to freedom of speech?

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