So, as some of you may know, our president always says what he thinks—no matter how awful or insane. Some people have lauded this as a model of free speech. However, I would like to take some time to consider where free speech crosses the line and how supposed advocates of free speech have undermined it.
To be clear, I firmly believe in the right of others to say things that some or even most people might disagree with. Since when am I the authority on topics like taxes or healthcare systems? However, that disagreement ceases to add to learning or discussion when the speaker attacks a certain group of people or advocates violence—as the president and many of his supporters have. There is a difference between allowing healthy disagreement and rewarding hate.
I’d like to address the biggest issue many people bring up—college campuses. Generally, they are described as fake safe bubbles for “special snowflakes.” I may be biased as a college student, but I would argue that’s not the case. First, we know much more about mental health now, and it’s not wrong to remind someone that hearing about certain opinions or terms may cause real harm to people. For example, Donald Trump’s remarks on grabbing women could understandably cause severe issues for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. Preventing vulnerable individuals from having panic attacks or flashbacks is not the same as censorship. Now, mental health concerns should not be constantly used as an excuse to avoid mildly uncomfortable situations, but that’s often not what’s going on.
Additionally, when students protest a speaker, they are exercising their own right to free speech. If the students attack the speaker in hateful or violent terms, that’s obviously not right, but they also don’t have to “consider” or “debate” hateful viewpoints (homophobic, racist, misogynistic, etc.). A speaker’s views are often widely known ahead of any public appearance at a college, so it’s not fair to say that they haven't been allowed to say their piece.
It is absolutely important to spread kindness and empathy in today’s world, and sometimes forming a meaningful relationship with a person who expresses hate will change them. However, that is not something that can be counted on, and a public speech at a university is not the setting for that.
Lastly, I would like to mention the recent issues with the NFL. Many conservative commentators have become irate because of peaceful protest against racial injustice. The president, who has power to shape the country and has been given an international platform, has expressed a wish for players engaging in such a protest to be fired. To me, that represents a much more dangerous threat to free speech than anything happening on college campuses.