The following is an op-ed by LFHS senior Christian Braun. All of the opinions and viewpoints expressed within the article are solely that of the author.
As I prepare to leave Lake Forest High School, I began reflecting on the past school year, and I could not help but think about how greatly our nation’s political tradition has changed these past few months. Just a few short years ago, liberals and conservatives converged for civil debate across the nation. Although at times inflamed emotions arose, mainstream political conversations remained peaceful and respectful. In stark contrast are the events of this year, beginning with this past presidential election.
In addition to the usual career politicians, businessman Donald J. Trump entered the 2016 race, running on a moderate conservative platform. Soon, the Trump campaign was gaining momentum across the nation. In an attempt to stop the Republican candidate, instead of countering policy issues, some of the left began to personally vilify Trump as a fascist, homophobe, and racist, taking some of his words out of context to support these claims. The media quickly jumped on this narrative, and soon, most of the election coverage was anti-Trump. In spite of these efforts, Trump gained the Republican National Committee’s nomination. Later that year, on November 8, 2016, everyone expected Hillary Clinton to capture those elusive 270 electoral votes, but to the surprise of many, Donald Trump earned 306 and secured the presidency.
Although the Trump campaign succeeded, the scare tactics employed in an attempt to defeat him gravely injured the American political system as a whole. As a result of these personal attacks, the left and the media demonized the Republican party altogether. Before 2016, liberals depicted conservative stances as respectable despite disagreeing. Now, however, the left portrays right-of-center views as immoral. Now, conservatives are racists for supporting strong borders and enforcing existing immigration laws. Now, conservatives are heartless for opposing the individual healthcare mandate. Now, conservatives are white supremacists for merely supporting our president. Because of these outlandish, unsubstantiated claims, many conservatives have been forcibly silenced and outright rejected from the debate table, and their views have been unjustly labeled as “hate speech.”
As a result of this vilification of Trump and the right, the 2016 election broke away from the 1800 precedent of a peaceful transition of power between parties. For days after the November election, “protesters” hurled rocks into shop windows, started fires, and rioted in the streets to somehow contest the democratic process, causing massive collateral damage with no meaningful purpose. In addition to these post-election riots, outbursts of violence against conservative speakers soon sprang up nationwide. Many who protested the November election soon joined Anti-Fascist Action, or Antifa for short, to oppose “fascism” wherever they saw it. Although their purpose seems clear and rational, in practice, this group does nothing more than wrongly label conservatives as “fascists” and use violence to suppress free speech — a sacred, First Amendment right. For example, on February 1, 2017, Milo Yiannopoulos, a provocative conservative speaker, attempted to give a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, where he faced harsh opposition from this group. Although peaceful, differing viewpoints are always to be welcomed in our society, Antifa acted reprehensibly, rioting with the sole purpose of forcefully stopping the event. Unfortunately, after the Berkeley Police Department stood down, Yiannopoulos had to abandon the speech. Antifa’s ability to end that event set a very dangerous precedent which affects society to the current day, as illustrated by the withdrawal of Ann Coulter and the Young America’s Foundation from another UC Berkeley event a month ago after threats of rioting and violence.
In light of these troubling developments, what can we do? How can we solve this dangerous problem? The answer is simple — don’t buy into this sensationalism. By presenting the conservative movement as purely immoral, the left attempts to gag half of our great country, ironically becoming the real fascists themselves. Productive, respectful debate is essential to our political system, and if one party attempts to silence another, the entire country will soon fall. As a result, during times when we are tempted to censor opposition to preserve one’s feelings, we must relent and let our nation’s Constitutional principles guide our actions — we must always stand for free speech without regard for our personal viewpoints. Only with this guidance of the Constitution and our founding principles can our country continue the tradition of success it has created for the last two centuries.