Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek said, “The liberal idea of tolerance is more and more a kind of intolerance.” That is to say, the complete acceptance of “progressive” beliefs and values actually results in a regressive attitude towards the values Americans hold dear, such as freedom of speech. Recently on college campuses, high schools, and in the United States at large, we are seeing a greater degree of suppression of more conservative views.As we have seen at universities across the United States and Canada, conservative viewpoints are being driven from the fields of academia because of their supposed racist and sexist tenets. Leftist activists have shut down many debates, talks, and speeches such as the rally that was supposed to be held at the University of California, Berkeley, by conservative pundit Ann Coulter — resulting in many Americans closeting their ideals and values out of fear of backlash. Speeches by Milo Yiannopoulos at academic institutions such as Rutgers and U.C. Berkeley were shut down by protestors who, rather than listening to what he had to say or allowing others to listen, chose to disrupt the events to prevent either from happening. Even in the face of ugly and objectionable attitudes which should be condemned, we should be wary of the impact that actions such as limiting individuals’ rights to express themselves may have on other realms of discourse within our society. Ironically, this is the exact opposite of the basic principles of tolerance and acceptance that the progressives on the left champion. The concept of politically correct language is just one of the left’s many proposals to reduce instances of racism or discrimination. However, enforcing political correctness limits the right to freedom of speech and can result in a complete silencing of opposition. This concept is based on an idea of moral superiority, that the language others use is somehow more offensive than your own, giving you reason to invalidate other people’s opinions. Those on the left believe they are on the “right side of history,” when there is no absolute basis for such a claim. Many groups on the right have used the same argument to validate their own moral and political definitions of justice. The slogan “God is with us” has been used as justification for countless atrocities around the world. There is no validity to either of these statements because they are purely based on personal beliefs. Any movement that bases itself on having the moral high ground is an enemy to fair discussion and the fundamental American belief in free and equal speech. One can truly believe their views are morally superior or valid compared to those of others. This however, cannot serve as valid argument as it is purely subjective.
Even at PHS, it is quite apparent that a minority of students who hold conservative beliefs are more reserved and less vocal as a result of fear of being criticized by peers, a majority of who hold “progressive” views. Following the election of President Donald Trump, students wearing “Make America Great Again” apparel were berated by Hillary Clinton supporters in the halls. The majority of students use buzz words like “bigot” and “ignorant” to describe their classmates with opposing views, ironically one of the many qualms that those who oppose Trump have. It is difficult enough for students with less popular beliefs to express themselves and discuss their opinions as very few students share them, but the added intimidation from being labeled a fool by most of school creates an atmosphere of fear and paranoia that stifles all discussion and results in reclusiveness and a greater divide across political and social ideologies amongst our students.
Discourse and debate in an open and fair environment is crucial to creating an atmosphere in which ideas can be shared and refined in order for society to progress. Speech is all about communication, and by limiting our communication we limit our ability within society to understand one another and remain diverse in our political beliefs and ideologies.
When we think of American intolerance, historically, we tend to think of progress; the past couple decades have seen increased US involvement in securing the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens, and has produced admirable results. Once entirely ostracized races, sexual orientations, beliefs, and other defining characteristics have gradually come to be accepted and embraced in an advancing and modernizing society — new times of acceptance have steadily replaced the political and social discrimination of old.However, in recent months, with the rise of an unpredictable and unprecedented shift in politics, American tolerance has taken a shocking turn away from progress, and has even reverted back towards the prejudice, hate, and isolation of the past. Public opinion targeting certain groups has narrowed the standard of acceptable or ‘American’ traits — largely disturbing the progressive trend of the past few presidencies. Whereas political activity was once highlighted by advances in LGBTQIA+ rights and reforms to establish a fair and accessible immigration system under President Obama, in 2017, a national study by the Southern Poverty Law Center recorded a rise of the number of hate groups in the U.S. from 457 in 1999 to 917 in 2016.
Part of this drastic step backwards is in part fueled by a populist response to an increasingly globalizing world, ridden with problems and conflicts that have elicited feelings of fear and insecurity. The threat of terrorism and violence, as well as the fierce competition of a stressed economy leave many Americans skeptical of outsiders, foreigners, and those who are “different” from them in terms of backgrounds, identities, and beliefs. According to TIME Magazine, 47 percent of Americans claim to be “somewhat worried” or “very worried” that they or someone in their family will be a victim of terrorism. Additionally, 26 percent of Americans worried about immigration are reported to be most concerned with how it will threaten national security through the dangers of violence and crime. A reported 74 percent of Americans agreed that immigration was damaging to the national economy according to a CBS poll. Accounting for the overlaps of these groups, it seems coherent — fear and uncertainty is on the majority of Americans minds. However, according to Noah Smith, a finance professor at Stony Brook University, increased immigration leads to population growth and greater economic activity. The 2017 executive and legislative elections were a mobilization of this fear into an energized and organized political backing — if fear is the fuel, politics have become the engine.
The handling of the refugee crisis and the reactive immigration policies were among the new president’s original platform appeals. Men, women, and children fleeing from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia all seek the hospitality of a safe refuge, and in response, the United States plans to limit or bar migration of these peoples into its custody. Under Trump, the superstition that a refugee could cause violence, destruction, or crime outweighs the benefits of helping persecuted human beings in need. “This could be one of the great Trojan Horses,” he remarked during his campaign, likening the refugee population to conquerors and intruders. As seen through a variety of reports, including a TIME magazine article which estimated a 1 in 10.6 billion chance of being killed by an immigrant in a terrorist attack per year in the United States, Islamophobia is an irrational and largely insecure thought, yet one that is on the rise amongst Americans. While intended to provide some security to a terror-stricken U.S, the handling of the refugee crisis and immigration policies under Trump has hindered trends of greater religious and social tolerance. The implicit bigotry of the plan cannot be hidden — it is a bar on ethnic and religious minorities, fueled by stereotypes and prejudice. This is quite a contradictory policy for a country that claims to be the “melting pot” of the world’s cultures.
While many credible arguments exist that a rise of intolerance and barred speech freedoms have even risen from the social progressivism of the left, the correlation of discrimination and prejudice to the actions of the radical Trump administration cannot be dismissed. Exploiting the very weaknesses, insecurities, and terrors it should ideally protect, the Trump administration has endorsed the toxic notion that the surrounding world and its peoples as hostile and antagonistic. Once exceptional for its humanitarianism and social progress advocacy, the United States has been hijacked by an ideology that what is unknown is dangerous, and the sole remedy for conflict is avoidance.