An article in the University of Maryland’s student newspaper outlined the plight–such that it is–of Trump supporters on campus. Less than 15% of the school voted for the guy, but those that did feel silenced and judged, making allusions to free speech and healthy debate that, predictably, don’t extend to people calling them on their shit. They, like Trump, mistake accountability for persecution.
“You don’t want [your views] getting in the way of anything else, like employment or friendships,” says ones student after voting for a candidate who promised to deport and inter his classmates. “It is totally OK to disagree with each other. But when it becomes somewhat of a hostile disagreement…we’re entering a dangerous space,” says another, having supported a man who spent his campaign threatening to jail his opponent and spends his presidency lashing out against the press.
Look: there’s a difference between thinking Leonardo DiCaprio is a good actor and thinking Donald Trump would be a good president. Both are wrong, but nothing’s actually at stake when it comes to Leo. Trump made it very, very clear who he is, and he has been just as explicit about the groups he will attack. Anyone who voted for him knew this when they did so. While they’re entitled to that opinion, we’re entitled to be furious at them for it. It’s not a breakdown of free speech for Trump supporters to get called out; it’s free speech in action.
I’m really not interested in treating all viewpoints as equal. This is a good primer on why the “tolerant left” doesn’t tolerate bullshit, and I don’t think the free-speech-danger-zone that campus conservatives purport to want is a good idea, at least in the form they want it. But these sulking Trump supporters at UMD show that they weren’t after free speech in the first place: they want impunity. They want to question the humanity of marginalized groups and get nothing but polite debate in return. They want the First Amendment protections for their provocations, but not the angry responses they get. They want freedom of speech and freedom from accountability.
If it seems like I’m being weirdly harsh towards a small set of college students, you’re not wrong. But it’s a small set of college students that are being painted as martyrs for the First Amendment, and the debate they’re a part of goes well beyond a single campus. And it’s bullshit. They aren’t. They never were.