Back in early 2016, while the movie about her libel trial was in production, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt participated in a debate at Oxford University about whether the act of Holocaust Denial — that is, saying that the Holocaust never happened — should be against the law. You might find it surprising that her position was that it SHOULD NOT be criminalized. Her reasons? Here is what she said: “I am convinced that freedom of speech means nothing unless it includes the freedom for offensive people to be offensive. We who are offended by them, must accept that, as a cost of living in a free society.”
Read that again: “Freedom of speech means nothing unless it includes the freedom for offensive people to be offensive.” This bedrock principle of America is why the ACLU defended the right of Nazis to march in Skokie. It is why Breitbart News is an important part of the landscape, but it is also why left-learning and neutral news sites are also an important part of the landscape. Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of the Press, are cornerstones of what makes America great, of what keeps American politicians accountable to the American people, and ultimately, what keeps the people at the top of the national power structure.
It is something that Donald Trump has forgotten. In a post yesterday on Facebook, Trump wrote that he is fulfilling the promise of promoting “our values”. And what are these values? He talks about allegiance to America. He says, “We all salute the same American Flag. And we are all made equal by the same Almighty God”. But he does not mention the Constitution — the ultimate, founding definition of American Values. Values that, for America, take priority over the Bible. This is no small testimony to the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution contains no reference to God.
Offensive people being offensive. We see this every day in the era of Trump. Yet it is something that Trump does not want to see. It was manipulation of the media and fake news that created the outrage against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Agenda that cemented his election — and it was something that he supported, used, and encouraged. Now that he is in office, this manipulative news is the only news he wants to see. More importantly, it is the only news he wants THE PEOPLE to see. He wants to suppress investigative journalism into what his administration is really doing, and is arguing that such media is “fake news”, the product of “illegal leaks”. He is going so far as to publicly attack journalists as “enemies of the people” (such an ominous phase) and to bar selected news outfits — including not only American media but the BBC and the Guardian — from meetings with the Press Secretary. There has only been one time where, in my memory, an American President has been this hostile to the media. Most Americans won’t remember it; I wasn’t barely in my teens when it happened. It was when President Nixon attempted to cover up his direct involvement in the Watergate Breakin.
What is President Trump trying to hide? What is he trying to divert and distract us from seeing? It could be his collusion with Russia over the election, although Congressman Darryl Issa (R-California) is working to get a special prosecutor to investigate just that. More importantly, however, it could be to divert our attention from the fact that the President is actively working to dismantle the American Government.
That’s right: His advisor Steve Bannon said so directly: Bannon framed much of Trump’s agenda with the phrase, “deconstruction of the administrative state,” meaning the system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president says have stymied economic growth and infringed upon U.S. sovereignty. But in doing so, he is also deconstructing the system that ensures equality and non-discrmination under the law; that ensures safe food, water, and drugs; that ensures a clean environment in which to live; that ensures that our leaders are ethical, honest, and working for the people. In doing so, he is building a system where reporting government abuse of the Constitution and violation of the law is viewed as a problem for the government, not whistleblowing protecting the people.
Pretty offensive, right?
But just as in America it is vital that we have the ability to hear the offensive lies that President Trump and his supporters promote, it is vital that President Trump, and his supporters, and all the American people hear the offensive truth that the media investigates, sees, and reports. This reporting comes not only from American media sources such as the television networks, the major city papers, and long-time journalist outlets, but from the foreign media such as the BBC.
Occasionally being offended is the price we pay for living in the freest society on the planet. Those who work against such offense are working against American values.
In a few weeks, Jews all over the world will be celebrating Purim. It is an interesting holiday. It is not in the Torah at all; it is defined in a story called the Megillah, which you know as the Book of Esther. The story is remarkable because it makes no mention of God — just like the Constitution. It tells the story of an advisor to the King that hated the Jews, and wanted to see them all destroyed to make him, and his values, more powerful. Sound familiar? It is also the story of how a man of the people and from the people spoke truth to power, and not only saved his people but restored the nation to their values. Speaking truth to power — even when it is uncomfortable to do so, even when there is significant risk in doing so — that is what our Free Press does.
It is what men such as Hamen — the real enemies of our people — hate and despise and want to suppress, for speaking truth to power will deprive them of their power.
Now think about this: Who is the power that has the President, his advisors, and the GOP leadership shaking in their boots? Who is the power to whom the Press is speaking? The People. It is the People — you and me and Democrats and Republicans and Independents — who have the power to vote their asses out of power, to remove the power of their party and ideas at the state and local level. It is we the People that have the power to replace them with people from all across the political spectrum — liberals to conservatives, non-religious to religious — who respect and treasure the Constitution, and who realize that in our system of government, it is finding the point of compromise that is key, and compromise only comes from all sides both talking and listening.
All of this, just from putting up with offensive people.