The Universal Notebook: Ground rules for a war of words

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About the only thing that all sides in this fractured society might agree on these days is that these are not normal times.

Those who put Donald Trump in power seem to want him to destroy the established order, democracy be damned.

Those of us horrified at his election believe Trump presents the greatest threat to American democracy in our lifetimes.

We are going to knock heads as long as Trump remains in office, so let’s get a few ground rules straight.

First, let’s agree that being open-minded does not mean you have to be open to sexism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia and fascism. Intolerance of intolerance is not a form of bigotry, it is a form of enlightenment.

Obscenity, fighting words, defamation, perjury, blackmail, incitement to lawlessness, threats, solicitations to commit a crime, treason and plagiarism are not forms of speech protected under the First Amendment, but hate speech is. So bigots have a constitutional right to say hateful things about people (as long as they do not incite violence against those people) and the rest of us have a constitutional right to call them bigots.

In the wake of the election, bigots have been emboldened to take their messages mainstream.

The University of California at Berkeley erupted in violence over the planned appearance of Brietbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos, a man banned from Twitter for life because of his racist and sexist attacks. The university was prepared to allow Yiannopoulos to speak, but non-student rioters put an end to that.

A mini-controversy of the same order occurred at the University of Southern Maine when it was announced that a conservative student group had invited state Rep. Lawrence Lockman to speak. Lockman is about as extreme as elected Republicans get in Maine, and has said some terribly hateful things about women, immigrants and gay people.

A student group asked the university to prevent Lockman from speaking, but to its credit the university allowed Lockman’s appearance. Saying someone is wrong is not the same as saying they should not be allowed to speak.

Some 200 people showed up to demonstrate against Lockman and his anti-immigrant message, but there was no violence. Picket, protest, resist, but don’t try to silence the opposition.

The statement of principle, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” has become a bedrock of American free speech. This principle has led to some uncomfortable situations, such as the ACLU defending the right of the KKK to march, but these are words we must all agree to live by. If people I disagree with can be silenced, so can I.

And that is one of the great fears running through our society as the Trump administration seems determined to discredit the media, silence dissent and make up its own facts when the truth is embarrassing. That way lies tyranny, and you can hear the authoritarianism in the voices of Trump’s closest advisers.

“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” said Stephen Bannon, another Brietbart editor who is the president’s closest adviser. “I want you to quote this: the media here is the opposition party.”

The only thing the mainstream media got wrong during the election campaign was how gullible so many Americans could be.

And senior Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller issued his infamous dictatorial dictum when Trump’s travel ban met with massive resistance nationwide, proclaiming haughtily “the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Yes, son, they will be questioned. They must be. To question authority is the American way. Dissent is patriotic.

The most simplistic rhetorical device of the right is to accuse the media of everything they themselves are guilty of. “Fake news” is the invention of alt-right media. Now we have a president plastering that label all over the professional mainstream media because he doesn’t like the facts, he prefers the narcissistic universe of his own fantasies.

Charles Sykes, a disillusioned conservative talk show host, wrote a piece in The New York Times recently lamenting how successful the right has been in selling the public crazy conspiracy theories and “delegitimizing the media altogether.”

“We destroyed our own immunity to fake news,” Sykes wrote, “while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right.”

We now hear those voices not only in online comment sections, but also in guest editorials, university lecture halls, on the nightly news and, most alarmingly, coming from the White House.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

  • Moishe the Beadle

    “Those who put Donald Trump in power seem to want him to destroy the established order, democracy be damned.” That’s as far as I could stomach reading on your latest blather.

    Since when have socialists such as Obama, Hillary, Billary, Pelosi, Schumer, Reid, Jarrett, Holder, etc. given a damn about democracy? Good riddance except Obama and his minions won’t go away and have started “Organizing for Action”.

    “OFA is committed to mobilizing and training the next generation of progressive organizers and leaders, because real, lasting change doesn’t just happen on its own—it requires a program, it requires organizing, and it requires people [thugs] like you.” Translation: The Marxist revolutionaries are on the march again.

    • EdBeem

      None of those people are socialists, but I sure prefer socialists to fascists.

    • Queenie42

      Didn’t you even pay attention to the CPAC meeting? Bannon stated exactly that he was out to destroy the established order. Bannon, Priebius, Miller, all are following the playbook of Hitler. If you can’t see it you are blind.

      • Moishe the Beadle

        Even Kool-Aid drinking Obama supporters can’t really believe these people are following the playbook of Hitler. Run that garbage by some of your own ilk but not me, please.

    • JimDSull

      Is your stomach equipped to handle the same sentiment when it comes from Team Trump. What Beem said is exactly what Trump’s people are saying. Here are two gems from Bannon:

      “I’m a Leninist. Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

      “If you look at these cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction.”

      How about that? Team Trump says they want to destroy the established order.

      • Moishe the Beadle


        • EdBeem

          Bull. Trump is a traitor surrounded by anarchists. He is intent on destroying America for his own profit with the aid and assistance of the Russians.

        • JimDSull

          Figuratively? I don’t think so. They’re hell-bent on deconstruction and destruction. This is what they say they’re doing. This is what we see them doing. Why not take them at face value?

          • Moishe the Beadle

            And, why is it a bad thing to shake up the bureaucracy and dump all the Leftists embedded there? I believe both the State Dept. and the DOJ were in the high 90’s for those who voted for Hillary.

          • EdBeem

            Maybe that’s because educated people voted for Clinton.

  • Queenie42

    Let the bast**ds yap, yap, yap and enjoy watching them dig their own graves with their own mouth. For instance, Milo is in deep doo-doo for promoting pedophilia. Even the conservative PAC doesn’t want him. Poor baby.

  • Chew H Bird

    “Those of us horrified at his election believe Trump presents the greatest threat to American democracy in our lifetimes.”

    If this is true, we have far deeper problems than I can possibly imagine…

    Our national power grid is basically unprotected. Being in debt to countries that pose a threat to our sovereignty is basically asking for problems in event of a conflict.

    While our national media did not create Trump the billionaire, they did create Trump the President. Our national media priorities are economic and are tied to clicks, readership, viewership, advertising revenue, and ratings. The news we see is what the various media corporations believe will make them the most money and as such we see a skewed view of the world around us on a daily basis.

  • Bowdoin81

    Ed you wrote: “To question authority is the American way. Dissent is patriotic.”
    I agree.
    But the guy who wrote this column in 2012 doesn’t seem to agree:
    “oh yes, anti-Obama racists”
    So dissent in those days was not patriotic; it was racism.
    And that deplorable “apostle of greed” Romney!
    Having said so many terrible things about such a decent man, how can you even find words to describe Trump?

    • EdBeem

      I thought I explained, “First, let’s agree that being open-minded does not mean you have to be open to sexism, racism, misogyny, xenophobia and fascism. Intolerance of intolerance is not a form of bigotry, it is a form of enlightenment.”

      • Bowdoin81

        Forgive my denseness, but what are you saying? That it was proper of you to label dissent in the Obama era as racism?

        • EdBeem

          What I wrote in 2012 listed anti-Obama racists as one group that supported Romney. I did not say all Romney supporters were racists nor what percentage were racists. I said nothing about dissent.

    • Kevin McCarthy

      How does that 2012 column label dissent as racism?

      • EdBeem

        Obviously, it doesn’t. I am always amazed at what people read into what they read.

  • Jimmy_John67

    If Ed Beem had ever adhered to any of these rules when penning his political drivel he might have a little credibility regarding this topic. However as it stands, this article is yet another item in the long list of “do as I say, not as I do” directives from Maine’s foremost media bully and hypocrite.

    • jack bauer

      Well said.

  • jack bauer

    Okay, so now you’re a self-appointed expert on the first Amendment. Did you ever defend any of the folks who were fired because they expressed a politically incorrect opinion like they believed marriage is a union between a man and a women? I know that’s a radical thought, but did you defend anyone in that situation based on free speech grounds? Please cite the date of your column. And you provide a long list of items which are not protected speech in your opinion, but geez, I don’t see sedition on your list. Is that because so many of your associates are expressing openly seditious views?

    • EdBeem

      Sedition is just talk. Treason is what Trump and Bannon will be convicted of.

      • jack bauer

        “Talk” is free speech and much of the subject of your column. Do you even know what sedition is?

        • EdBeem

          “Talk” is all speech whether protected or not. “Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority.” The crime of sedition is most often talk. The U.S. Code defines treason as “whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere.” So I say again, Trump and Bannon are likely to commit treason.

          • jack bauer

            Yep. By your own words, you just indicted many of your associates like it or not.

  • MisterMainer

    “the non-student rioters from Berserkley” is nothing but more fake news from somebody who has spent their life polishing the turd that is the left through the written word.

    Maybe you ought to read the essays that students published in the Berserkley student newspaper before you jump to such a conclusion.

    Sounds like they advocated violence,justified the violence,participated in violence,and defended their violence to me.

    • EdBeem

      None of the rioters arrested were students.