Yoho and Cotton | On Politics | Chicago Reader

Yoho and Cotton 

As always, free speech is a one-way street for the Trump crowd.

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U.S. House; U.S. Congress

It’s been about two weeks since a bunch of well-intended liberals and lefties wrote an open letter in Harper’s Magazine, denouncing intolerance on the left.

Well, if the conservative crowd appreciated the gesture, they have a funny way of showing it. Let’s just run down a few of the insulting, degrading, racist, anti-Jewish broadsides emerging from figures on the right over the last few days . . . 

Congressman Ted Yoho called congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch.” Then when she called him out for it, he said he didn’t say it—even though a reporter for the Hill said he did say it.

Senator Tom Cotton said slavery was a “necessary evil.” When he was called out, he said he’d been misquoted and that what he’d actually said was that the founding fathers thought slavery was a “necessary evil.”

As if that clarification is any less offensive. Or historically accurate—’cause it’s not at all clear that many slave-owning founding fathers thought there was anything evil about owning slaves.

Tribune columnist John Kass wrote what I call a twofer column in which he dragged out an alt-right, anti-Jewish trope regarding George Soros to malign Black officials like Cook County state’s attorney Kim Foxx.

Thus, he managed to degrade Jewish and Black people in one swoop.

Meanwhile, Lori Lightfoot’s right-wing critics have called her a communist whose base, as Tucker Carlson put it, consists of “angry Marxist rich kids with spray paint.”

All because they didn’t agree with her decision to take down the Columbus statues.

In the aftermath, there are no apologies, no regrets. Apparently, they’re proud of what they say and would say it again. As far as I can tell, they feel free to say just about anything they want.

It seems as though there are almost no consequences for right-wingers who spew mean-spirited, hate-filled invective. Tucker Carlson still has his job. As does Sean Hannity. Laura Ingraham. Rush Limbaugh. And John Kass. OK, the Tribune moved Kass from page two to the editorial page.

By the way—much love to the Tribune’s guild for taking a strong stand against Kass’s Soros column.

The right’s done a masterful job of flipping the switch on free expression. They’ve got the left on the defensive. As though right-wingers are innocent victims whose free speech has been stifled by the lefty political-correct police.

I almost have to give them credit. They’ve rigged the debate so that even many well-intended liberals have been brainwashed into thinking that “political correctness” exists only on the left.

Well, the right has its own version of rigidly enforced political correctness.

Among other things, you can’t criticize Trump supporters for being utterly batshit crazy even when they’re saying things that are, you know, utterly batshit crazy. Like the people in Florida who testified against an ordinance requiring masks in public places. Because—oh, hell, just watch them if you haven’t done so already.

But if you criticize them, you’re an elitist.

Similarly, you can’t criticize Trumpsters for forcing their religious beliefs on everyone else. Like the bakers in Colorado who went to court to win the right not to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

Then you’re a secular humanist who’s intolerant of religious beliefs.

The right recently convinced the Supreme Court to protect the religious rights of corporations to not cover the cost of contraceptives in their employees’ health-care plans. They even got two liberal justices—Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer—to sign on to sending the case back to a lower court.

And they say the left is intolerant? I’m still waiting for Justice Brett Kavanaugh to rule that doctors have a First Amendment protected right to talk about abortion with their patients.

Now, I guess we’re supposed to defend Tom Cotton’s right to describe slavery as “a necessary evil” and John Kass’s right to employ anti-Jewish tropes. All in the name of free speech.

Generally, I’m pretty open to free-speech arguments. But I don’t get the feeling that it’s a two-way street.The obvious case is Colin Kaepernick. I don’t recall many (or any) prominent Republicans defending his right to free speech when he got kicked out of the NFL for taking a knee during the national anthem.

Similarly, Trump says he supports the rights of his supporters to wave the Confederate flag.

Well, I guess I should say Trump doesn’t limit that right to just his supporters. Though let’s face it—who else but a Trump supporter would want to wave the Confederate flag?

Trump says waving the confederate flag is “freedom of speech,” even if that flag symbolizes an evil institution that is offensive to many people.

But then he turns right around and says flag burning should be against the law. "We ought to come up with legislation that if you burn the American flag, you go to jail for one year. One year,” Trump said.

He says burning the flag is “desecration” that many people find offensive.

Oh, so when one group of people are offended, we need a law to protect them.

But when another group of people are offended, it’s—stop whining, snowflake!

Want another example?

Consider John Catanzara, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police. A few years back he made news when he posted a picture of himself in a Chicago police uniform holding a sign that read: “I stand for the anthem. I love the American flag. I support my president. And the 2nd Amendment.”

That president he supported was Trump. Well, you didn’t think it was Obama, did you?

As a believer in free speech, I defended his right to post that picture.

But now he’s threatening to expel any union member who takes a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters.

And so it goes. When it comes to free speech, the right only wants it for themselves.  v

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