“America Cannot Be America if Civil Disagreement Becomes a Contradiction in Terms”

‘Our Republic can survive a pandemic. It can survive civil unrest. But ideas and deliberation are our foundation. America cannot be America if civil disagreement becomes a contradiction in terms.’

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks today on the Senate floor regarding civil discourse:

“Yesterday, I explained we cannot let the First Amendment become another casualty of this troubled moment.

“No matter how charged the issue, peaceful protests must be protected – from suppression by governments or hijackings by violent mobs. In the United States of America, people get to protest.

“In our country, people also get to worship.

“As I explained yesterday, local officials cannot selectively enforce health restrictions to privilege some First Amendment gatherings over others. If mayors are posing for photographs in massive demonstrations, there is no reason why small, careful church services should stay banned.

“These are formal constitutional questions. But our American culture of free expression and open debate is not only threatened from the top down, by the government. It can also dry up from beneath.

“If we are to maintain the civic discourse that has made us great, American citizens and American institutions need to want it.

“In the last several years, the New York Times has published op-eds from Vladimir Putin, the foreign minister of Iran, and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. They have published an essay arguing for greater normalization of pedophilia.

“As far as I know, none of those decisions occasioned public revolts from the paper’s staff, hand-wringing apologies from the editors, or an overhaul of the masthead. Presumably it was understood that pushing the envelope and airing disagreements are necessary in a free market of ideas.

“But one week ago, the Grey Lady finally met her match.

“Vladimir Putin? No problem. Iranian propaganda? Sure. But nothing could have prepared them for 800 words from the junior Senator for Arkansas.

“Senator Cotton wrote an op-ed explaining a position which one survey found 58 percent of Americans agreed with. He argued that leadership in several cities had proven they either couldn’t or wouldn’t stop the riots, so President Trump should use federal troops to secure the peace, as several presidents have in our history.

“His view was controversial, no question. But there is also no question it was a legitimate view for a Senator to express.

“Looting and arson were crippling cities nightly. Some local authorities seemed to be functionally sacrificing their cities’ small businesses to appease the mob. In Chicago, we’ve since learned, even Democratic aldermen were literally crying and pleading with their Democratic mayor to do something. So a United States Senator wrote about it.

“Immediately, his idea met strong criticism. Now, that ought to be par for the course. In a free and open society, speech begets speech. Arguments beget counterarguments. We discuss and debate as fellow citizens.

“But that is not quite what happened. Instead of trying to win the argument, the far left tried to end the discussion.

“By now, we all know the routine. We’ve seen this movie before.

“Rather than actually rebut speech, the far left instead tries to silence the speaker with a mixture of misrepresentations, sanctimonious moralizing, and bizarre, emotional word salads that nobody else could have standing to question.

“This silencing tactic has escaped from the ivory tower and is spreading throughout American life. It sounds like a Mad Libs mixture between a therapy session and a university’s H.R. department.

“So, sure enough, instead of attempting to defeat Senator Cotton’s ideas, the left set out to ban him from polite society.

“Some New York Times employees flooded social media to claim their bosses had risked reporters’ physical safety with the Senator’s scary words. Outside leftists blasted the paper for airing the argument.

“The Times itself began lying about what Senator Cotton had said. The paper’s own Twitter account has claimed he’d called for a crackdown on peaceful protests, when he specifically distinguished them from violent rioters.

“One of the Times’ own opinion writers devoted her own column the next day to calling his view “fascist” and proclaiming him outside “the bounds of legitimate debate.”

“Remember, this is a sitting Senator discussing a proposition that had majority support from the American people discussing a power that Congress gave to presidents 213 years ago and which presidents in the past have exercised.

“But the facts couldn’t hold a candle to the hurt feelings. The New York Times had erred grievously by making people confront a different viewpoint. They had to atone.

“When the dust settled, the top opinion editor was gone. His deputy -- reassigned. The piece was pulled out of the print edition. And a wandering, multi-paragraph apology now precedes it online. We’re talking about the New York Times.

“I understand the new editor has made it clear that staff should notify her immediately if any published opinion makes them uncomfortable.

“One of our nation’s most storied newspapers just had its intellectual independence challenged by an angry mob -- and they folded like a house of cards.

“A jury of people on Twitter indicted them as accessories to a thought crime, and instead of telling them to go take a hike, the paper pleaded guilty and begged for mercy. Their readers’ comfortable bubble was reinflated. Their safe space was safe again.

“Now, our colleague from Arkansas has a unique job. The far left cannot write angry e-mails to a university president or a publisher to get him fired. He cannot be silenced by professions of outrage or the use of magic words like “problematic.” His only bosses are his constituents.

“But this broader left-wing obsession with banning heretics from the public square will be poison for this country if it persists.

“Our Republic can survive a pandemic. It can survive civil unrest. But ideas and deliberation are our foundation. America cannot be America if civil disagreement becomes a contradiction in terms.

“The liberal tradition in this country used to pride itself on being broad-minded.

“But we have spent years watching major universities slowly exchange debate for uniformity, and rigor for psychological comfort. Now we see the free press repeating that error.

“Let’s hope we look back on this as a silly anomaly and not a sad turning point for our democracy.”

Related Issues: First Amendment