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COMMENTARY: 2020 casualty: free speech
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COMMENTARY: 2020 casualty: free speech

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2020 was a year like none other. The pandemic from Wuhan, China, hit the United States like a tsunami in March and has killed over 300,000. The ensuing lockdowns crushed one of the strongest economies in our nation's history. Then came the nationwide protests and riots following the George Floyd killing. Finally, the first nationwide mass mail ballot election for president, with long delays of ballot counting and substantial questions of election integrity in battleground states. The Pandemic, civil unrest and irregular presidential election each could be a major event for a year. Regardless, the most disturbing consequential event of 2020 is the suppression of free speech by the media, assisted by big tech. Let me explain.

First, when the American founders listed the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the first was the right of freedom of speech and associated freedom of the press. This was understood to be the cornerstone of a free people and free society. According to Benjamin Franklin: “Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”

Unfortunately, in 2020 we saw the rise of suppression of free speech. Previously, the marketplace of ideas allowed for reporting, discussion and debate of all ideas. The suppression of unapproved ideas and viewpoints became normalized in 2020.

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It’s important to distinguish this new suppression from the suppression of speech originating with government, as we saw in the Soviet Union. In the America of 2020, a new elite had developed, exercising its power of the control of most newsrooms and tech platforms. These new power brokers were heavily influenced by the prevailing radical liberalism fostered by the elite institutions of higher education.

Unfortunately, the influences of critical racial theory and intersectionality pervade among the media and big tech elites. In this, traditional America is considered racist and fundamentally flawed. If you do not hold to this world view, you are considered racist and part of what must be transformed. Views outside this elite world view are considered worthy of being suppressed.

This ethos is contrary to the liberal view of free speech from the civil rights era. The Berkeley free speech movement was about defending all speech, including that which might offend. The ACLU previously defended the rights of Klan members to organize and speak, even while in vehement disagreement.

Those ideas are now dead, with the new elite ethos of suppressing or restricting “hate” speech or some variant. At U.S. universities now, over 40% of students believe it is right to suppress speech that could be considered offensive.

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Suppression of speech moved from hate speech to suppression of stories that could hurt the Democratic Party. Mainstream media and big tech acted as virtual operatives for the Democratic Party in attempting to defeat a perceived “racist” President Donald Trump in 2020. The first example came during the summer riots, in which the media downplayed the level of violence by calling riots “peaceful protests.” Americans started using the term “gaslighting” in reference to media attempting to twist what Americans were seeing and experiencing in reality.

Then in October came the attempts to bury the Hunter Biden laptop scandal. Hunter Biden left his laptop at a computer store in Delaware and the emails went public. The emails indicated a coordinated effort by Hunter and Joe Biden for Hunter to make millions off Joe Biden’s influence as vice president. The emails showed compromise via Hunter’s dealings with companies with ties to the Chinese Communist Party and indicated Joe’s participation. The New York Post published the story with overwhelming evidence of authenticity. Twitter and Facebook quickly suppressed any reference to it and banned the New York Post from publicizing on their platform. CNN’s Mark Zuckerberg was caught on recording telling reporters to suppress that story.

Next came the suppression of evidence indicating fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election. For one example, a video turned up showing Democratic officials pulling suitcases from under a table in Fulton County, Georgia. This was after sending Republicans and media home after a bogus claim of a water leak. These officials were caught on video counting those ballots from the suitcases while alone. Videos also show Republican ballot observers kicked out of counting places in Philadelphia. Regardless, media continued the gaslighting line of “no fraud” in the election.

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As this suppression of speech has become normalized, we are seeing a unique distrust of the media by the conservative half of the country. Even so-called “fact checkers” in media and big tech are not trusted. Benjamin Franklin warned of the result of suppressing free speech that “the Constitution of a free society is dissolved." Even if this suppression were to stop now, it will take many years to regain trust. The pandemic will fade, and the economy will return, but it remains to be seen if society can keep from dissolving.

Bill Connor, an Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book "Articles from War.”

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