The holidays are right around the corner, so it’s the season to tell other people to shut up. That’s my takeaway from this week’s various events. Let’s look at three.
First, there were renewed cries for Donald Trump to be banned from Twitter. An online petition has tens of thousands of signatures. The arguments vary, but they are from a common set. He makes things up. He’s vicious. He’s every “ist” and “ic” in the book. And there is no free speech issue because Twitter, as a private company, has the right to suspend what accounts it likes.
Wow. They’re right that Trump’s tweets are often offensive. They’re also right about the First Amendment. Absent a specific legal prohibition, a private business may refuse to serve whomever it likes, even the president. Still, it feels as if we have passed through the looking glass, into a world where everything is the opposite of what it ought to be. How else to explain the sudden liberal affection for corporate power as a government check?
Which brings us to the week’s second bit of shut-up news, this coming from the Trump camp. The president-elect as usual made himself the center of controversy, this time with a ridiculous proposal to punish those who burn the American flag. As virtually the entire commentariat across the political spectrum has pointed out, such punishment, meted out officially, would be blatantly unconstitutional.
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But what about an unofficial punishment? Let’s imagine a social media company that is offended by flag-burning (or wants to protect the sensibilities of those families who are). By the let’s-ban-Trump-because-he’s-offensive logic, the company could ban those protestors, too.
Which leads us to the third bit of shut-up news from the week. A conservative watchdog group is posting online the names of professors whom it believes promote a radical agenda in the classroom. The left is furious. Such methods, critics argue, are reminiscent of the McCarthy era in their effort to enforce an orthodoxy upon the classroom.
Yes, indeed. Maintaining such lists is horrible. I am delighted to welcome my liberal colleagues back into the company of those who think it wrong to use shaming and public pressure to make others change their minds – especially on campus, where the exchange of ideas should be a near-absolute value. I anticipate with pleasure and relief their fury when professors whose positions are unpopular on the left are pressed to disclose e-mails and funding sources. Because that is McCarthyist too.
Heady days. The post-Trump left has now come out for more corporate power and an end to shaming on campus. Any day now, I expect fear of Trump to move my liberal friends to decide Citizens United was not such a bad decision after all: perhaps they would like to use some corporate cash to fund efforts to defeat him in 2020.
Bloomberg View columnist Stephen L. Carter is a professor of law at Yale University.