Freedom of (Hate) Speech?

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

What does a Trump sign mean to you?

Point:

The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” We citizens of the United States refer to this as the “right to free speech” or “freedom of expression” and generally extend it to campaign signs. Thus, whatever the prevailing politics of a community are, Trump signs and Biden signs have equal right to be in people’s yards and other sign-sanctioned areas. Seems simple. But nothing political ever is, really.

Anecdotal Interlude:

On the internet today, I witnessed one of my neighbors pleading with people to be respectful of other people’s property and viewpoints. The incident that spurred her post was the theft of a Trump sign at the front of our neighborhood and the defacing of a Trump supporter’s property. The damage included their cable being cut, which interfered with their kids’ ability to get online for school. Most people agreed with her and thanked her for her call for decency, no matter their political affiliation. Hell, I agreed with her. Then, a different neighbor passionately presented another view.

Counterpoint:

To some, (myself kinda included) Trump signs are symbols of hate and intolerance. To a not-small number of people, they say “racism, elitism, classism,” calling to mind a general lack of empathy for fellow human beings. So, (and this is far from a new issue) do we tolerate ALL speech? According to the Constitution and the US Supreme Court, yes we do, with the exception of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. But — and this is a question for intelligent Trump supporters in my neighborhood — how would you feel about a swastika sign in your neighbor’s yard? What about a confederate flag? Perhaps you’d be okay with a group of people in white hoods passing out literature or at least uneasily tolerate it as legal, but if a “Hitler” banner makes you squeamish, perhaps you can imagine how a Trump sign makes some people feel.

Let’s Be Reasonable:

I am not equating Trump with the long-dead, most-infamous, murderous racist of all time. I recognize a Trump sign is not the same as a Hitler sign. After all, Hitler is not the incumbent president up for re-election this year. I’d be skating on nonexistent ice if I said you couldn’t put up signs supporting a legitimate candidate in an upcoming presidential race. But I make the comparison in hopes of creating some empathy. No matter your politics, can you imagine seeing a sign planted in the ground, near your home, that you equate with complete disrespect and disregard for not just what you believe but who you are?

Trump Supporters:

I’m not asking you to change your mind. I’m not asking you to condone destruction of property, political signs or otherwise. I’m asking you to have a little empathy for how your neighbors feel, how they might perceive those signs as a threat to their well-being based on the way the Trump administration has treated immigrants and other marginalized groups and ingratiated themselves to white supremacist groups. I’m not saying take your sign down; I’m asking you to consider your neighbor’s perspective. Just a little.

Anti-Trump People:

I know you are frustrated and appalled at what is going on in our country; I am too. And you should say so, loud, clear, articulately and often. But don’t resort to name-calling. Don’t sink to personal attacks and petty destruction of property. Stand firm, argue the issues. Vote, for godsakes. But we too need to show some empathy. Your neighbor is still your neighbor. And just because you can’t fathom their politics, doesn’t mean they aren’t decent people. Hell, debate with them; it would be good for you — get it out in the open and maybe both of you will stop feeling so hateful. But debate and listen; don’t fight, don’t mudsling. Come on, y’all. What would Obama do?

In Closing:

“Polarized” is hardly a strong enough word to describe the extent of us-versus-them mentality these days. Both sides only make it worse when they abandon intelligently arguing the issues for trying to out-bully each other. I’d like to think, or at least hope, that my neighbors can rise above the crappy example set by some of our most visible politicians. You can scowl at your neighbor’s yard sign. Your can disagree with them, and you can tell them that. But have some empathy and be a fucking adult about it, would you?

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