After being on, then off, then possibly changed, and then on again, Ann Coulter has finally cancelled her planned speech at the University of California-Berkeley. While many on the left will irrationally rejoice, and some on right who don’t like her personally will simply shrug, the reality is that all of us should be condemning this development. Whether we realize it or not, we all just lost a little bit of our most (formerly) cherished and important freedom.
There are many reasons that our freedom of expression is so incredibly vulnerable (and why in 2005 I wrote a largely-ignored book called The Death of Free Speech). One is that, for free speech rights not to erode over time, we as a society must be willing to constantly defend the rights of those whom we don’t like, and sometimes even loathe.
When we fail to fight for the speech rights of those we don’t like to be curtailed, it becomes an extremely slippery slope for everyone else to eventually to suffer the same fate. In a society where, especially in the era of social media, popularity is nearly everything, we have done a really lousy of holding up our end of this bargain.
I can’t think of a more striking example of this sad phenomenon than what has happened here.
Let’s be clear, Coulter was invited, with a contract, to speak at a state university (one which used to be well known for championing free speech rights, at least for liberals) and now was forced to withdraw from the planned appearance, not because of ACTUAL protest/violence, but simply the THREAT of it. These fears, amplified in this almost hilariously over-the-top Washington Post story, used to be ignored in academic circles because they would create the incredibly treacherous precedent of a “Heckler’s Veto,” but we now live in an era when such important principles are simply too inconvenient to bother with.
It’s one thing for Milo Yiannopoulos to be forced to cancel a speaking engagement at Berkeley because of a TRULY dangerous (if not also completely inane) situation, but it is another for Coulter’s event to be stopped without one liberal snowflake even being forced to make a sign and miss out on a party to show up.
This sort of thing used to be called letting the terrorists win.
What makes this episode particularly frustrating for a conservative free-speech advocate like myself is that Coulter being at the center of it confuses everything. Because she has a well-deserved reputation for manipulating these types of controversies for attention and her own financial gain, it is impossible to know when she is standing up for important principles, and when she might be cynically trying to provoke a lucrative lawsuit.
I’m still not sure which was really in play here (maybe a little bit of both?), but it now seems clear that she ultimately bailed from the event because those groups who should have at least supported her right to speak without risking physical harm failed to rise to the challenge. It is exactly this type of cowardice and hypocrisy which is why we will eventually all lose the right to free expression, for which so many good people in our nation’s history have sacrificed their lives.
Let’s also not forget the sheer insanity of this entire circumstance. Ann Coulter was simply going to speak at place which supposedly (LMAO) cherishes diversity of thought. She wasn’t going to do anything remotely more dangerous than possibly have some sheltered/spoiled kids hear a differing political opinion. Even far-left icons Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders defended her right to speak!
Every person affiliated with Cal-Berkeley should be completely ashamed today and the entire school should be roundly ridiculed. However, because Coulter is not liked by the news media, even by some on “conservative” outlets, I’m pretty confident the school will be spared anything close to the witheringly negative coverage that they deserve.
So now, especially because, thanks largely to Coulter’s divisive persona, there will be little or no outrage or backlash to this outrageous and dangerous development. This then means that campuses across the country will be feel even more justified in not allowing, or easily cancelling, speaking engagements by overly “controversial” (conservative) figures.
Not only will this further exacerbate the already frightening lack of academic diversity in our institutions of higher learning, but it will set a new standard for an entire generation for what is normal. In short, if you don’t like what someone MIGHT say, just threaten to protest and you can censor what they have to say. You might even be treated like a hero.
This is all exactly the opposite of the way the Founders of once great country intended things to work, which is about par for the course during these very strange and often upside-down times.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.