Free speech is under assault — from the right, left and middle alike.
Conservatives love to assail lefties and their so-called "PC culture." Make no mistake, the very concept of political correctness centers on some form of repression of speech and, by proxy, thought itself. But the right touts its own form of political correctness, and it's no less threatening.
Remember when outgoing President Barack Obama saluted a Marine with a cup of coffee in his hand? You'd have thought he handed the nuclear launch codes over to ISIS. The Dixie Chicks were driven from the airwaves after simply questioning the Iraq invasion. Both are examples of the right's own PC war, one that adopts an astoundingly limited scope on issues of nationalism. It's a jingoistic credo that claims a monopoly on patriotism. And anything outside of that myopic list of phrases and actions is, in a very real sense, deemed unAmerican.
Take Donald Trump's recent comments on flag burning. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that burning the U.S. flag is, in perhaps the purest sense, protected political speech. The litigatory highway is littered with what's left of prior attempts to undermine protection of speech.
And yet, here's Trump at a North Carolina victory rally:
"We love our flag. And we don't like it when we see people ripping up our flag and burning our flag. We don't like it. And we'll see what we're going to do about that. OK? We're going to see,” he said, after claiming to "love free speech."
It's just a part of a troubling pattern for the president-elect, who uses Twitter as a hammer to bludgeon individual citizens who dissent. In essence, Trump's version of PC is broken by anyone who questions him.
Ask union leader Chuck Jones from Indiana, who called bull on that whole "saving jobs" claim at manufacturer Carrier. Trump blasted his protest in a Twitter rant. In so doing, Trump unleashed an angry mob that took to harassing and threatening Jones.
Jones wasn't the first to feel the weight of Trump's PC goon squad.
The left, too — here and abroad — certainly owns a part of the demands for group-think. Academic careers have ended for questioning its dogma. And it's not just limited to the U.S.
Last week, anti-Muslim right-wing Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders was convicted of "hate speech" for his constant criticism of Islam and immigrants who follow the religious tradition. One can find Wilders hateful and dangerous while still being troubled by the use of courts to suppress language. Holland, mind you, doesn't offer a constitutional guarantee of free speech. In much of Europe, it's simply a legal norm.
But the PC problem doesn't live and die with bleeding-heart liberals, nationalistic conservatives, the president-elect or Europeans. The American political establishment is wrapped up in it.
Late last month, the U.S. Senate passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, legislation that would dictate the Education Department's view of hate speech targeting Jewish students. In effect, the bill adopts Justice Department language that considers criticism of Israel, a nation, as anti-semitic, setting into motion rules that could, in a very real sense quash political speech on campuses throughout the country. Kenneth Stern, who helped write the Justice Department language, blasted the legislation in an op-ed in The New York Times.
"What’s next? Should Congress define what speech is Islamophobic? Anti-Palestinian? Racist? Anti-white? How about defining 'anti-United States' speech? We could dust off the files of the House Un-American Activities Committee," Stern wrote.
Such protections for a foreign power — friend or foe — are unprecedented and basically exclusive to Israel, largely because of its religious significance as much as its geopolitical sway. Earlier this year, Iowa Legislature joined several other states in banning the state from doing business with firms that boycott Israel. In so doing, Iowa caught a wave that's sole focus is the repression of political speech.
Conservatives have one thing right: Political correctness is a threat. And it's a danger that lurks in all corners of politics.