Published in Cognoscenti on August 15, 2018
For most of our history, the First Amendment did not mean much. As a matter of original intent, the freedoms of speech and press were narrow. Beginning in the early decades of the 20th century, however, the rights blossomed. Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis wrote a series of Supreme Court opinions describing the importance of a robust and well-protected right to speak, publish, think, argue, persuade, emote and inquire.
Those rights have been cultivated for a century now. We currently enjoy a speech right that is the most expansive in the world, at any time in history.
The right is protected not only by law but by cultural norms. These norms include notions of respect for other viewpoints and of the importance of honest public debate. We assume our discussions over time will lead us closer to truth. We celebrate journalists and thinkers. We urge disclosure. We expect public figures to have thick skins.
President Trump’s attacks on these norms are dangerous. His attacks on journalists, on people who disagree with him, and indeed on the very concept of facts go to the heart of our democratic life. He’s the biggest snowflake in America.