As a life-long liberal, I am concerned about liberals. I often hear how we strive to be tolerant and inclusive, but I am not witnessing this. If I had to evaluate liberalism, I would replace it with a series of disjointed boxes. Their only connection would be with their artificial alignment. They appear unified, but each focuses only on its own box.
Not long ago, I was present at a faculty meeting, and the topic was hate speech. One professor argued that if a person showed up with a Trump MAGA hat, they would not allow him to wear that cap. The professor said the hat would disrupt the class and make students feel uncomfortable. It would be a macroaggression.
Political office is a mess, from current events in Virginia to the toxic partisanship in D.C., yet I strongly disagreed. Our students and our faculty have protections under the First Amendment. It would be illegal to remove someone from a public college classroom because of what they are wearing, I argued. Unless he is privately chanting “build that wall, build that wall” or making a Nazi statement, he has just as much right to wear that shirt as a gay person can wear a rainbow shirt, or an African American can wear a “Black Lives Matter” shirt.
That scared me. As one that often writes on disturbing and inappropriate content, I know what it is like to get censured. I wrote a poem that addressed my past trauma through a speaker. I lost a childhood friend in a horrible school bus accident. Its purpose was to hold a mirror up to society and show all of us what we seldom do. That poem was banned by a social media platform that champions free speech for violating “community standards.” I wrote them back and said, “I hope you never experience what it’s like to have your tongue ripped out of your mouth.” That banning felt like assault to me. I am the liberal in the red hat.
I was being vulnerable. I was admitting to the darker more conflicting aspects of myself, but I also was a survivor of repeated trauma. I felt that because I was a man, my boyhood abuse did not matter. That is the message men get.
I then realized that we have no art in the United States when any form of art is censured. Art is not meant to be politically correct. Now, I was the enemy. Yet, I knew, as a professor in literature, that my readers needed a lesson in how to read literature. They were reactive, the possible catalysts for fake news. They became the self-righteous moral “social justice” crusaders with little regard to the poem’s true meaning.
What all of us have in common is that we are connected. I grew up so poor that I lived on hot dogs and fries for two years, often with no running water, and, at times, had no central heat in rural Western New York. I understand the anger the Trump voter feels. I try to understand what it’s like for my African American student to be a minority in America, whose cousin dies in her arms from a gunshot wound, and after 20 years of feminist study, even as an editor of a collection on women, what it means to be female in America. It’s hard for all of them, and if we listen to their stories, we will connect.
People care about what they care about. By nature, we don’t care about people unlike us, so if we mock the differences in us: a hat, skin color, gender, sex, or our struggles, demons, and mental illnesses. We are running from ourselves. We will make the others enemies. There is the saying I’ve heard, When good conquers evil, good becomes evil. We all suffer, but we suffer differently. The very heart of fundamentalism relies on the devaluation of human beings. If the United States is anything, at present, it is a bi-polar fundamentalist state. For liberals, controlling speech will make us all better and happier. I see it as an assault on a democracy. In truth, free speech is the only pathway to continued democracy. As my conservative friend once put it, “Sometimes you have to put up with a little crap on your glasses.”