The impeachment of freedom of speech

If Trump is found guilty, it will have terrible consequences for liberty of thought and speech.

Donald Trump has once again made history in a way he would rather not have. He has become the first president in the history of the American republic to be impeached twice. The House of Representatives has voted to impeach him for ‘incitement of insurrection’. He will now be put on trial by the Senate. If he is found guilty – not impossible, given how many Republican representatives and senators have been making pro-impeachment noises – he will be turfed out of office at the very end of his presidency and barred from ever standing for political office again.

Who could be against this? Trump, as most of the media, the social-media oligarchies and politicians of all persuasions have been insisting incessantly since the breaching of the Capitol last week, is the new Hitler. The Capitol riot was the Reichstag Fire / the Beer Hall Putsch / Kristallnacht 2.0 – pick your favourite Holocaust metaphor – and Trump is responsible for it. The protesters were insurrectionists – worse, they were terrorists – and Trump was the spiritual and operational instigator of their terrorism. That’s the narrative we have been suffocated with for a week now. The Capitol breach was the 9/11 of our times, serious journalists madly claim, and Trump was its Osama bin Laden. People have actually said this.

In such a moment of hysteria – and we really have reached hysteria now – it can be difficult to call for calm and reflection. But that is what we must do before things go too far. The truth is that this impeachment of Trump is deeply problematic. It is an indictment not just of a president who has done many gravely questionable things in recent weeks, but also of freedom of speech; of the right of everyone – whether president or plebeian – to express him or herself plainly and passionately. Trump is essentially on trial for making heated political comments, for pushing an ideological line – that the 2020 election was ‘fraudulent’ – that many people find offensive. If he is found guilty, he will be found guilty of expressing himself in a way that the political elite considers problematic. Everyone needs to stop, breathe, and consider the impact this would have on the already frail culture of freedom. [ … ]

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