Yeezus, Trump and the Politics of Free Speech
With the advent of “Trump for President,” the Constitutional right of free speech has been on the forefront of my mind.
I’m not referring to appropriate speech, proper speech, fact-checked speech, but free, wrong or right, offensive or not, speech.
Donald Trump’s new strangle hold on freedom of speech is getting him the attention he wants and needs, and it may also be the essential element of his downfall (however we may define failure for a billionaire).
After the first Republican debate on Fox (mind you, I’ve never watched the first Republican debate, ever), I thought, "This dude really has a shot."
Listening to him say what he believes without regard for its impact (or perhaps that is the vicious plot) is refreshing in a certain, albeit skeevy, way.
Free speech always has its risks and rewards. There are consequences, but there are also great benefits. Without it, social change would not exist.
I’ve always preferred people who are blunt, direct and honest (sometimes considered irritable). They became my closest friends and confidents because I always knew where they are were coming from. We didn’t play games.
The quiet ones, those who shake their heads in agreement, are far more likely to be back stabbers. I’d rather know what’s coming at me.
The problem with Trump is he lacks social mores.
He’s the rich Archie Bunker of our time.
If you’re not familiar with “All in the Family,” a 1970s TV hit, Archie was a well-loved, sweet but ornery husband and father who was frustrated by a progressive society beginning to incorporate and accept black people's and women’s rights.
He was the voice of the misogynist, racist community. The development of the Archie character was brilliant and effective, and it made it more acceptable to tackle controversial issues head-on.
Much like Trump’s run for president, it was comedic but also made us reflect on very important issues. It was a sitcom I fear would be excluded from the airwaves today, and most certainly from the pristine college campus environment we’re cultivating.
There is a trend on college campuses of silencing comedians. The acts are pre-screened by students to eliminate jokes that are socially or politically incorrect.
Students are censoring free speech on campuses that were once the geneses of free speech, protest and change.
If you can’t listen to an opinion that differs from your own as a student, even as a joke, what will happen when you hit the real world and the censorship gloves are off?
What and who will you stand up for? How will we grow as a society?
Jokes are often structured to cause reflection and discomfort. Discomfort is the precursor to change.
If we continue in this direction, what will happen next?
Will it be the censorship of books and fines for public expression? Or will we simply be a whitewashed and camouflaged society of cultural sycophants?
We tuned into the Fox debate in droves, 24 million strong, to hear Donald lash out. (It would have been a great pay-per-view event). He brought issues to the surface that we really care about (immigration, race and women's rights). It was a far cry from the typical monotonous monologue on tax policies and Constitutional interpretation of the line-item veto.
The first repercussion of Trump's tirades was that he was excluded from the RedState Gathering that followed a few days later because of his menstrual comment about Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.
The thing about free speech is that you never know when you’re going to cross the line, whose line you may cross and what kind of power that person you cross has.
If transformation and social advancement is your goal, you must be willing to do so and accept the resulting consequences.
This brings me to Kanye West, or Yeezus, as he prefers to be called.
When Kanye verbally assaulted the innocent and ever-popular Taylor Swift on the 2009 VMA stage, social media went wild. While Taylor’s fans wanted to see a Kanye takedown, the two artists got over their differences and moved on.
Kanye did it again with Beck (and Taylor coming to Beck’s defense) after the Grammy’s this year, but Kanye and Taylor have agreed to disagree. There’s even been talk of them recording together.
So, we see Kanye has the ability to own up to his mistakes, communicate about them (by the way, Taylor did the same with Nicki Minaj) and forge relationships and partnerships. All of that, and he’s got talent, too!
Emotional intelligence and talent will always trump controversial speech.
As a producer and songwriter, Kanye also helps other musicians to find their voice. He produced Big Sean’s "I Don’t F*ck With You," resulting in a Number 1 Billboard hit.
Kanye wasn’t afraid of the lyrics, and they struck a chord with us. We thought, "Yeah, that’s right. 'I don’t f*ck with you!'" And while we may not have said it directly to the people we associated the lyrics with, we could sing the song with gusto.
I’d much rather support a person like Kanye, who encourages freedom of communication and thought, who says what he feels and thinks (making mistakes along the way), and causes, at minimum, some reflection on certain issues.
When he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” after the 2006 Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, he experienced a lot of backlash. But behind the scenes, many black people felt the same and were happy he said it aloud.
So, Kanye, get in the race, would you? We need somebody, anybody, who can speak honestly and work toward our societal interest, whether we accept your point of view or not.
As for censorship and mitigation of free speech, we need to nip that in the bud immediately, and protect and promote that right at all costs.
Say it loud. Say it proud.
Kanye for President!