Many Americans are reacting to Donald Trump’s Muslim-ban proposal with embarrassed shame. Some say he’s a national-security threat: for example, Hillary Clinton fears Trump projects a “dangerous” impression of America to the world. Such fearful assessments are misguided. Instead, we should be proud — not of what Trump said, but rather of the unique way in which Americans have responded to his free speech.
First, however, consider the global reaction to Trump’s comments. International liberal elites such, as former IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, indict Trump for criminal speech. And across Europe the fury has been predictably overwhelming. Take the reactions from America’s closest ally, Great Britain. Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling described Trump as worse than her murderous creation, Voldemort. Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.” Not to be outdone, Jeremy Corbyn of the opposition Labour party tweeted that Trump’s comments were an “attack on democratic values & affront to common humanity.” The British media have been hyperventilating over whether Trump’s speech might warrant arrest under the U.K.’s racial-hatred laws. Finally, a petition — now signed by more than 370,000 residents — is calling on Cameron’s government to ban Trump from Britain. With more than 100,000 signatures collected, Parliament must now consider a ban on Trump.
Americans should pay close attention to this global clamor. We’re once again reminded of the unique quality of American free speech and our constitutional trust in individual freedom as the ultimate prerequisite of a flourishing democratic society.
Consider the contrast: Where Trump’s global critics have criticized his right to speak, his domestic critics have focused on criticizing what he’s actually said. America’s tradition of free speech isn’t just morally exceptional for reasons of individual freedom. Our tradition is critical to advancing productive dialogue on controversial social issues. What happens when advocates of political correctness and chilled speech reign supreme? Today in Europe, where necessary debates are unwelcome and even illegal, deep social tensions are metastasizing. Just a few examples: France’s profoundly anti-immigrant National Front party, which just came first in the latest regional elections; or the anti-Muslim Pegida movement in Germany; or the upsurge in support for the Netherlands PVV nativist movement; or the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi movement in Greece; or the U.K.’s English Defense League hooligans. Some might say that these are simply European extensions of Trumpism, but they are far more problematic than Trump.
#share#Trump may be leading in primary polling, but he is still only a candidate — one populist voice in an ongoing debate. He hasn’t won anything yet. The aforementioned European groups exercise political power already, in some cases through parliamentary seats, in other cases through their ability to direct mob violence against innocent civilians (and, in the case of Greece’s Golden Dawn, through both).
Be under no illusions: These extremist political groups are forging their success by giving voice to voiceless Europeans. In the United States, we trust social dialogue to draw out public concerns and then balance those concerns with the cooling influence of vigorous democratic debate. In Europe, extremist leaders galvanize widespread anger into unified political movements. Unwilling to trust their citizens to hear a clown and recognize his or her clownery for what it is, European governments have turned the clowns into ringleaders. And to be sure, there’s a lesson here for those American conservatives who believe Trump should be expelled from the GOP race: The best way to defeat Trump is to debate Trump, and challenge his absurdities. Attempting to shut him down will only make him more powerful and his supporters more extreme.
#related#Americans should be proud of our exceptional confidence in freedom of speech. And we should be unafraid of where that freedom leads. After all, adorned in his Fox-fur cap and armed with his unrestrained rhetoric, Trump is exploring the frontiers of American opinion. Many similar characters have come before him, and many will follow him. But our history and our values remind us that no one man or woman is the master of American politics. And those who attempt to shame us should remember that America’s democratic will has always ultimately been the mortal enemy of extremism, rather than its ally.
Trump is a clown, but not a clown to fear.