In Disgusted Defense of Ann Coulter’s Right to Speak

As I read news of the cancellation, reinstatement, and subsequent cancellation of Anne Coulter’s speech at the University of California at Berkeley, I question the intelligence of the people who violently oppose the her speech. Do those people not understand they are playing right into her game of incitement? Do they not realize their threats of violence against her and her right-wing nut-case supporters do much more harm to progressive agendas than any good her absence could possibly achieve? I loathe Anne Coulter. In my view, she represents the epitome of intolerance, ignorance, bigotry, hatred, and even misogyny. My opinion of the woman is that she is a demented ball of ugly, poisonous goo that, if the world were a more just place, would simply evaporate into harmless vapor on a hot summer day. But the world is not such a place. And the First Amendment applies even to people whose malicious and malignant ideas decent humans find repulsive.

Though in my opinion Coulter’s and her supporter’s baiting tactics revolting and distasteful (let’s be honest here: I think she thrives on and encourages her opponents’ efforts to silence her), I am equally disgusted by people who would silence her by threat of force or violence. Those Coulter opponents who call themselves progressives, liberals, or otherwise claim to be righteous in their indignation at Coulter’s brand of right-wing bigotry—those people who use tactics I would expect to see used by fascist regimes to silence the opposition—are not, in my book, progressive in any sense. They are Coulter’s alter-ego, playing at the other end of Coulter’s ugly playground in which vicious teams of ideological zealots egg one another one in the hope they will draw blood.

People who listen to, applaud, and endorse Coulter’s brand of bigotry will never respond to reasoned argument and persuasion; they are beyond intellectual redemption. Neither will they respond, at least not in a positive way, to threats of being silenced or harmed. The same, I’m afraid, is true of people at the opposite fringes of the ideological spectrum. If they were to read my words, they would make all sorts of intellectually indefensible arguments as to why their efforts to silence Coulter are perfectly legitimate and, indeed, required in a democracy. Those people, too, are beneath contempt; like Coulter and her supporters, they seem not to have evolved intellectually and emotionally beyond tribe mentality.

Let the woman I consider morally bankrupt speak. Let a woman to whom I might label a disreputable scourge have her say. Let any succubus slut utter a string of lies. And be willing to let anyone say equally offensive things about anyone else they please. That’s how democracy actually works. Bigots’ arguments have virtually no basis in reality, nor do they find purchase on any ground that serves as a foundation of human decency. Bigots’ supporters will crumple under their own weight. Their opponents, of which I am among the most fervent, do not have the right to silence them or threaten them or their supporters. As thrilled as I might be to learn that Ann Coulter has turned to compost, it’s not my role, nor that of my philosophical kin, to bring about that happy transformation by sealing her vile lips. Unfortunately, bigots are in no danger of extinction; but like it or not, the Constitution protects them. Though I don’t like bigotry, I favor the free exchange of ideas, even bad ones. We must tolerate the lowest of the low to ensure the good can bubble to the surface.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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