I probably wouldn’t like Mike Pence if I met him, but, still, I do feel quite sorry for him. The guy is going to spend a large portion of his adult life making excuses for the silly things his boss says. I probably wouldn’t like Paul Ryan, either, but this poor guy is going to spend a lot of his time telling the press what the grown ups are really going to do, despite whatever his boss is ranting about that day. Despite my pathos, I remain concerned that we may have moved into a new era in America–an era in which it’s ok to speak your mind.
On the one hand, there may be nothing so quintessentially American as the right to speak up, to speak out, and to speak without censor. It is the essence of freedom. So, when a strong person comes along who ‘tells it like it is,’ there is an understandable visceral instinct of acceptance from those who share (what seem to feel like) his beliefs, but who have felt somehow restricted from speaking their own minds. Everybody likes a tough guy who looks out for them and talks their language.
The question is, why have these folks felt restricted in their speech? If the resonating messages are things like “Mexicans are criminals,” “Muslims are dangerous,” “The Chinese invented the climate change hoax,” and “The president hates America,” then who–or what–is suppressing these messages? And, this is the crux of the issue–that sometimes the things that suppress free speech are qualities like intelligence, rationality, compassion, decency, and maturity. Sometimes, the reason we haven’t felt welcome to say what we’re thinking is because the thing we’re thinking is a bad thing. We’re not bad people for thinking what we think and feeling what we feel, especially if we restrain ourselves from saying things that are useless, hurtful, mean, selfish, petty, and stupid. On such occasions, we should all feel proud that we restrained ourselves from speaking our mind. It’s a mark of maturity. Unfortunately, there are people, whether due to mistreatment, privilege, deviance, or some combination thereof, who have not developed this sense of sociability. The ‘ego’ does not check the ‘id.’ The tragedy of this, for me, is not it’s novelty (there have always been sociopaths), but rather the elevation of crassness from the gutter to the shrine. Some have mistaken ‘mind speech’ for free speech and rudeness for strength. A swath of the populace has backed a demagogue precisely for his willingness to say things that have long been suppressed in polite society, not for their veracity, danger to the establishment, or subversive nature, but simply because these things lacked thought, benevolence and decorum. Calling someone “fat” isn’t free speech. It’s mind speech.
Today in New York City, someone had scrawled anti-Jewish, neo-nazi slogans in the subway. And why not? It’s the era of “speak-your-mind” and, obviously, this was on somebody’s mind. But, hate speech is not the same as free speech. We should still speak truth to power, we should speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, we should speak up for what is right, and, indeed, we should speak up for our own interests. However, as mature, dignified, civilized adults, when do speak our minds, we should also take care to mind our speech.