Critical to the health of a functioning democracy is the ability of its people to talk with one another, freely and openly. As members of the oldest-surviving democracy in the world, Americans enjoy free speech rights that are the exception and not the rule globally, with vast swaths of the globe living under regimes that monitor and repress speech not in line with the status quo. And yet, there is a growing movement on the American left to curtail open debate on controversial topics, precisely the kind of speech that the 1st Amendment was drafted to protect. Topics like critical race theory and gender identity may be difficult to talk about in today’s cultural climate, but we must be able to have those conversations with civility nonetheless.
In a country as vast and diverse as the United States, it is only natural that there will be a variety of opinions on political and cultural questions. Despite the misgivings of activists, we know that it is entirely reasonable to question the validity of labeling an entire race as oppressors, or of giving teenagers puberty blockers and surgery without parental input. Unfortunately, for an increasingly influential portion of the population, raising those concerns is tantamount to open bigotry, or “violence”, for which one should be publicly shamed. Shouting down those with a different view, or claiming that a person’s opinions are invalid because of their race or socioeconomic status, serves only to degrade the conversation and snuffs out any chance of dialogue between those with opposing views.
Most importantly of all, such hostility to opposing viewpoints is inherently incompatible with the normal functioning of a liberal democracy. Those advocating for modern-day racialization or for adolescent gender reassignment surgery should push for their positions by making an affirmative case to the public, not by repressing debate with threats of cancelation and shaming. We are not opposed to an increased focus in schools on our nation’s imperfect past; the triumph of the US Constitution is tempered by the scourge of slavery and Jim Crow. We are also open to the idea that aspects of gender identity could be helpful to children struggling with depression and anxiety. But we are firmly opposed to the notion that novel theories on race and gender are not up for debate. If we lose the ability to have open dialogue on hot-button political issues, free from fear of retribution, America’s status as the elder statesman of liberal democracies will be put into question.