Where is François-Marie Arouet when you need him?
I utterly detest Donald Trump’s poisonous rhetoric, his rancid views and his casual racism. Yet I would defend to the death his right to believe and spout such rubbish. The problem is that if Trump is prevented from expressing his views – however obnoxious – then none of us is free.
And so we come to the latest round of allegations, that he has encouraged violence at his political rallies. Scenes of his supporters attacking black people are utterly sickening. The sight of Trump approving his audience’s violence is just as sickening.
But what is the correct, the proper, the socially responsible thing to do in these circumstances? If a group of protesters attend a political meeting with the sole intention to disrupt it, so the speaker cannot be heard, what is the right response? To tamely submit to a takeover by your opponents? It seems to me that to be bullied into silence by protesters is equally unacceptable.
I agree with Trump about one thing. We have become so politically correct that we are terrified of “offending” people. Yet if someone sets out to stop me speaking in public by disruptive behavior – however offensive my views – then they deserve to be thrown out of the meeting. If they won’t go quietly when asked, then they cannot be surprised if they are kicked out.
Voltaire’s biographer famously characterised his belief in freedom of speech with the words “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.” It sticks in my throat to say so, but we must accord this right to the Trumps of the world as well as those who are trying to do some good.