Dear Fellow Liberals: Let’s End Our Obsession With Safe Spaces and Free Speech Clampdowns

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By Brad Balfour | 9:34 pm, January 1, 2017

Dear Fellow Liberals,

With Donald Trump soon to be in the White House, it’s more than apparent that 2016 didn’t turn out all that great for us. Even many Republicans are concerned about the threat to peace and prosperity that he entails.

But aside from freaking out, it would be remiss to not dwell on what went wrong last year and examine where we could have done better.

No amount of the importance we are placing on safe spaces, trigger warnings, and campus political correctness can deflect from needing to confront what has recently happened to political discourse and our responsibility in rectifying the yawning gap between both sides of the divide.

When a college professor in Mizzou shouts away media — usually sympathetic media — in fear of open confrontation then it’s clear we are giving conceptual weapons to conservatives to blast us with both barrels from the weapons they get from the gun clubs that so many of them belong to.

When the outspoken Carrie Fisher died suddenly, the accolades and condolences flew in. Among them was one from legendary actor Steve Martin, who commented in a tweet that she was “the most beautiful creature he had ever seen who was bright and witty as well.” Given that Fisher has humorously reflected on her own foibles, it seemed like an assessment that she would have appreciated.

And then the liberal criticism rolled in accusing Martin of, in one way or another, diminishing her because he somehow reduced her to a beautiful creature. As a result, he deleted the well-intentioned statement.

C’mon comrades, get off the high horse! I imagine that after this experience, a fairly self-protective artist such as Martin will hesitate to join in on the digital discussion, and rightfully so. Given his fairly benign words, he didn’t deserve the opprobrium.

Welcome to the world of the social media echo chamber and its effect on the cultural discourse. But that seems to be the state of things; veer in any slight direction other than the very straight-and-narrow liberal orthodoxy and a shit storm erupts.

Thanks to the political campaign of Trump, civility has gotten thrown to wind. Without a filter, he said what he thought — like some ADD-addled teen. He did what he wanted, damn the consequences — and hey, it paid off.

It’s affecting the left’s quality of discourse. Trailing in the wake of his unholy footsteps, we have thrown off the cloak of good sense and a modicum of respect for the opposition. To be sure, we are confronted with unprecedented provocation from the right.

Witness controversial Carl Paladino, co-chair of Donald Trump’s New York campaign, who made “unambiguously racist” and “morally repugnant” remarks about the Obamas last week. An unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 2010, Paladino told the Buffalo weekly Artvoice that he wanted to see President Obama die of mad cow disease in 2017, and for Michelle Obama to “return to being a male” and live in a cave in Zimbabwe with a gorilla.

No restraint exhibited there. If they want to call out the hijab clad, they do; if they want to declare white territorial rights, they do. Civility is increasingly being rendered obsolete on the right.

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle now that the Internet and social media allow any hard right fool with thumbs or fingers to say what he/she wants without fear of consequences and to garner a huge audience as well for their “thoughts.”

But that only means we liberals need to be more mature about all this. Just because our political opponents no longer feel they have to drape their words with even the slightest tempering of the message or operate with the necessary cushion of respectfulness, that doesn’t mean we have to either.

Too many of us are in the business of restraining anyone from expressing anything remotely transgressive for fear of being socially inappropriate or politically incorrect. Safe spaces and trigger warnings are increasingly seen as necessary to restrain any kind of possible regressive expression.

They shouldn’t be. We have emerged from the aftermath of the culture wars. We progressives should be supporting free expression, provocative ideas and advocate forward-thinking ideas. But sometimes it seems that’s no longer the main agenda.

Thanks to the tweet and the unfiltered video, provocateurs are socially challenging society like never before.

No longer is the establishment, once reflected in a respect for the President or our other key leaders, providing a fulcrum on which we can balance the teetering notions of reasonable civility vs unrestrained expression.

It is up to us to find a centrist role model. The conservatives sure don’t seem bothered about solving the problem. But we need to stop falling into the traps over political correctness and freedom of speech they keep laying for us.

How do we do this? Who out there can solve the civility vs unrestrained expression conundrum for us? The Dalai Lama? Stephen Colbert? Oprah? Viola Davis? Or maybe even, God forbid, Glenn Beck?

Hell if I know. But we need to address this urgently otherwise more mayhem will ensue.

Thanks to our petty and unnecessary policing of language and ideas which fall outside the parameters of our own belief system, we are making it easier for Donald Trump to say what he wants without fear of the truth.

Happy New Year,

Brad

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