Let’s talk about free speech for a minute, using an example that we have all just lived through.
After four years of political and societal chaos, the rubber finally met the road on January 6, 2021. After the pro-Trump mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol, Corporate America decided it had finally had enough — and they brought the thunder.
Airbnb, AT&T, Dow, Google, Marriott International, Morgan Stanley, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced their political action committees (PACs) would no longer contribute to the 147 Republican members of Congress who objected to certifying the election results.
American Airlines, Bank of America, Best Buy, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Boston Scientific, BP, Charles Schwab, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Comcast, Commerce Bancshares, ConocoPhillips, CVS Health, Delta, ExxonMobil, Facebook, FedEx, Ford, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Hilton, JPMorgan, Microsoft, UPS, Walmart, the Walt Disney Company, and Wells Fargo announced they were either reviewing their contribution strategy or stopping contributions altogether.
This was a huge blow because Corporate America PACs gave $91 million to members of the House of Representatives and $27 million to members of the Senate in the last election cycle alone.
Hallmark specifically asked Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) for their campaign contributions back, saying in a statement, “Hallmark believes the peaceful transition of power is part of the bedrock of our democratic system, and we abhor violence of any kind. The recent actions of Senators Josh Hawley and Roger Marshall do not reflect our company’s values.” Additionally, Simon & Schuster canceled Josh Hawley’s upcoming book contract.
As a reminder, Senator Hawley was the first person to announce his intention to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote count, and Senator Marshall supported the objections to the electoral votes for Arizona and Pennsylvania.
But that was nothing compared to the wrath Donald Trump incurred. Stripe, the online payment platform; Shopify, the e-commerce platform; and Snapchat, YouTube, Twitch, and Reddit banned him from their platforms — as, famously, did Twitter. Facebook and Microsoft announced temporary suspensions for the Donald, saying they would reassess things after his presidential term ended.
Deutsche Bank and Signature Bank (his two largest lenders), the Professional Golfers’ Association and the City of New York all announced they would no longer do business with him. Lehigh University and Wagner College both rescinded his honorary degrees.
Amazon Web Services announced it would no longer host pro-Trump social network Parler for violating its terms of service. Buck Sexton, a conservative talk radio host, was incensed, tweeting: “Every time I try to open my Parler app and can’t because of big tech censorship, I’m reminded that the most powerful enemies of free speech got where they are by pretending to be its greatest advocates.”
What Buck conveniently left out of his tweet is that Parler, a private company, was removed by Amazon, another private company. Ironically, he also forgot he was saying all of this “big tech censorship” business on Twitter, to a national audience.
Josh Hawley also didn’t see the irony when he wrote a column titled “It’s Time to Stand Up Against the Muzzling of America,” which made the cover of the New York Post, along with a picture of a man with duct tape over his mouth. The New York Post has hundreds of thousands of readers. This hardly qualifies as “muzzling” him.
The irony was also lost on the members of the House of Representatives who, wearing masks bedazzled with the word “Censored,” stood at a microphone on the House floor, where their complaints about being censored were broadcast across the entire nation.
The whining didn’t stop there. Josh Hawley described his book cancellation as “Orwellian” and as “a direct assault on the First Amendment.” He continued, “This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of.”
Jonathan Turley, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, called these acts “McCarthyism” and “censorship,” and likened them to “blacklists.” Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) called these types of moves an “oppressive attack on our fundamental freedoms.”
When Twitter permanently shut down Donald Trump’s account, Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) tweeted, “Big Tech censoring [Donald Trump] & the free speech of American citizens is on par with communist countries like China and North Korea.” Of his father’s Twitter banishment, Donald Trump Jr. said — once again, ironically, on Twitter to a national audience — “Free speech no longer exists in America.”
Guys, or should I say crybabies, give me a freak’n break. You can’t have it both ways, Republicans. It was your ideology that established these rules in the first place. For decades, the Republican Party has worked hard to ensure that Corporate America — and Corporate America alone — has the right to decide how to run their companies.
In 1968, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the liberal lion, wrote the majority opinion that the owner of a private shopping mall could not exclude protestors from using the mall’s passageways. This, Justice Marshall declared, would violate the protester’s First Amendment rights.
This ruling stood until President Nixon appointed four conservative justices and the position of the Supreme Court was reversed. Now, private corporations were under no obligation to grant access to their property: “The Court today holds that the First Amendment poses no bar to a shopping center owner’s prohibiting speech within his shopping center.”
The First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
These words protect American citizens against censorship imposed by the United States government, not Amazon. I seem to remember that conservatives were all for this distinction when businesses didn’t want to make wedding cakes for gay couples, or when Hobby Lobby didn’t want to provide birth control to its employees.
Look, here’s the deal with free speech: every member of Congress, every president, and every American citizen has the right to say whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it. BUT everyone else has the right to react to what is said in any way they choose. See, the funny thing about free speech is that it cuts both ways.
This topic always reminds me of the country band the Dixie Chicks, who has since changed their name to just The Chicks. In 2003, right before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, one of the members of the Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, told a London audience that the band was against the war and “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas. This comment led to an enormous backlash from their fans, corporate boycotts, and their music being dropped from thousands of radio stations across America. Seventeen years later, Natalie said that she thinks her band was “one of the first to feel that ‘cancel culture.’”
I love The Chicks and personally think the punishment didn’t fit the crime in this case, but the fact remains that, as I just said, everyone has a right to say whatever they want but everyone else has the right to their personal reaction to it. If her fans were offended enough by her comments to stop buying her albums, then they had every right to be.
Someone yelling “Free Speech” after saying something controversial doesn’t immunize them from the repercussions that may come with what they said. We’re not on the freak’n playground playing Cooties.
In my view, this extends to hate speech. Go ahead and put on your fur and horns getup and storm the United States Capitol, along with your buddies who said they “were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain” — but you will all get arrested and face federal charges for your actions.
Go ahead, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and spew deranged, racist conspiracy theories and post photos of yourself pointing an AK-47 at other members of Congress — but you will lose your congressional committee assignments and (I know there is a long way to go, but I have faith in Georgia so I’m making a bold prediction) you will lose your congressional seat (please God!).
Go ahead and incite your cult to riot and trash the United States Capitol. But you will get impeached, you will get kicked off your social media platforms, and you will be blacklisted by Corporate America. That’s just the way the ball bounces buckaroo.