Let’s get this out of the way first: I have no love for the far-right extremists who marched through Charlottesville last week, not least because one of their prime targets is Jews, meaning me. When they go on about Jewish control of the government, media or whatever, what they’re saying is that Jews should be eliminated from this perceived position of power, however that might be accomplished. Not a pretty thought. Having been raised in Alabama in the 1960s, I’ve had plenty of exposure to far-rightists, including the Ku Klux Klan. On one memorable occasion, I was in the car with my brother waiting at a light when we were approached in the middle of the street by a hooded clansman, his hood lifted so as to reveal his face. He came up to the driver’s side, passed me a pamphlet of some kind and moved on, saying, “Y’all have a nice day.” I was struck by the way he maintained the social niceties even as he promoted his racist bile. Evil comes in all packages.
Nevertheless, he and the crowd last week are citizens too. They have every right to march and spew their slime as long as they don’t resort to violence or make specific threats against individuals. They should be allowed to gather, say their say, and leave. Any intimidating behavior on their part should be dealt with forthwith by the authorities. But when opponents scream over them, wield weapons and prevent them from demonstrating peacefully, whatever their views, that is not exercising your freedom of speech; it’s violating theirs. Once they have had their say, you have the floor and can rant and rave and condemn them at your pleasure. And they do not have the right to stop you either. That’s the way it works.
Allowing the other side to speak out doesn’t just protect them. It protects you. I despise the far-left extremists who can’t accept that basic idea. (As it is, the far-left loathing for Israel will lead eventually and inevitably to oppression of Jews as well. So we get it either way. There’s plenty of evidence that this is already happening, like the Chicago lesbian parade in June that ejected lesbians carrying Jewish Pride flags. And given the proven violent tendencies of this group, I find them very scary.)
In any event, preventing citizens from speaking or gathering doesn’t make them disappear or convince them they’re wrong. Better to expose the hateful ideas to the light of day, where they will live or die on their own terms.
It must be said that the social system has been undermined in recent years by the actions of the judicial branch, which is increasingly taking over the role of the sclerotic legislative branch by overturning laws — effectively creating new ones — in areas like same-sex marriage, affirmative action and transgender issues. From the perspective of opponents, why have a vote in the first place? Unless there’s a compelling constitutional rationale (for same-sex marriage, the court cited the “dignity” of gay couples), citizens will feel that their vote is meaningless – that is, democracy has failed them. In addition, the constant harping on race makes permanent villains of innocent bystanders, pushing them into a corner where nothing they can do is right. At some point, that is going to have consequences.
Once faith in the system starts to crack, once people feel that their fate is being taken out of their hands, once the bond among citizens fades, what happens then? We might be seeing the answer in Charlottesville.