“Let’s Go Brandon” and the Dumbing Down of Freedom of Speech

This post is much more political than most of the stuff I write. That’s a warning more than an apology, but it’s kind of an apology too. This story struck a nerve with me and I had to vent a bit to get it off my chest and out of my head. I’ll be back to writing about unimportant nonsense soon.

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In the days leading up to Christmas, President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden answered calls from children calling into the NORAD Santa Tracking Center. One of those calls was from a child in Oregon, who was on a speaker phone with his dad, Jason Schmeck. At the end of the call, Schmeck said to the Bidens—with his young son listening in—”Merry Christmas and Let’s Go, Brandon.”

As you probably know, “Let’s Go, Brandon” has become a rallying cry for Trump-loving MAGA-heads because syllabically, it sounds like “F*ck Joe Biden.” To be certain, the “Let’s Go, Brandon” phenomenon is a juvenile approach to political speech, lacking as much in substance as it is in cleverness. When MAGA world says “Let’s go, Brandon” they might just as well announce themselves as politically illiterate, completely unoriginal, cult-following dolts who willingly hitch their wagons to the loudest, most hateful, most uninformed voices around them, desperate to be patriotic and to sound intelligent, but failing miserably on both counts.

After Schmeck showed his true colors on the phone call with the Bidens, he received quite a bit of backlash. Commenters on TV and across social media took him to task for being rude, crude, insensitive, and disrespectful. Schmeck was caught off guard by the backlash, and as a true member of the MAGA cult, assumed the position of victim. He claimed that he was being attacked for exercising “my God-given right to express my frustrations in a joking manner.” (Now, he’s talking about running for Congress.)

There are two problems with Schmeck’s sentiments. First, the right he is talking about is contained in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It prevents the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.” It doesn’t prohibit TV or social media commenters from reacting to that speech. That seems to be forgotten by a lot of freedom of speech hawks on the right.

The second problem with Schmeck’s complaint is something that is happening with increased frequency, particularly with right-leaning speakers. They seem to think that “freedom of speech” means they can say anything, no matter how vile, rude, or misinformed, and no one should be allowed to respond. They want freedom of speech as well as freedom from the consequences of that speech. To them, criticism is paramount to censorship.

Of course, that’s not how freedom of speech works. No one is censoring their speech. They are free to say whatever they would like. What they are not free to do is avoid reactions to their speech. The thing most of these people forget (or never realized) is that, if they have freedom of speech, so does everyone else. They want to have their say, but they want others to be prevented from having theirs. This is a hallmark of autocratic regimes where “the rules apply to thee, but not to me.”

This dumbing down of the First Amendment’s grant of freedom of speech is just one area where our Constitution and democratic institutions are being attacked by the far right. The Right’s move toward authoritarianism in recent years has been accompanied by attempts to alter long-recognized rights (such as those contained in the First Amendment) and sowing doubts in traditional democratic institutions, such as elections. Tweaking our rights and weakening our democratic institutions make it much easier for anyone with autocratic intentions to sweep into office, destroying our democracy in the process.

So, when you hear MAGA foot soldiers like Jason Schmeck complain that his rights are being violated because people reacted strongly to his idiotic comment, just remember that 1) the First Amendment only applies to the government abridging speech, not to you, and 2) just like Jason, you have freedom of speech too. Use it liberally. Our democracy depends on it.

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