When I saw that Steve Bannon was one of the headlining interviewees at the upcoming New Yorker Festival in New York City, I was met with a feeling of alarm.
Bannon has long been an outspoken advocate for the right-wing political agenda, to the point where he has been ridiculed as a fascist, neo-Nazi, racist and many more secondary classifications. The New Yorker Festival, put on by a widely known left-leaning publication, the New Yorker, seemed to be one of the last places where I was expecting Bannon’s name to circulate with semi-relevance.
What surprised me even more was that shortly after this discovery, I found that he had been uninvited after a wave of backlash from other event speakers. Many celebrities took to social media to express that they would be withdrawing from the event because of Bannon’s invitation — a list that included Jim Carrey, John Mulaney, Judd Apatow and Jimmy Fallon, among others. While these guest speakers had every right to refuse to share the stage with anyone, I believe that David Remnick, the New Yorker editor who was set to interview Bannon only to uninvite him, showed cowardice in his disregard for free speech.
Though I tend to lean left on political issues, free speech is a separate entity from party politics. Remnick was either purposefully attempting to cause an uproar for publicity or was too moronic to perceive the consequences of adding Bannon as one of the last guests to the lineup.
The former circumstance is one where Remnick would have knowingly violated Bannon’s free speech. As abhorrent as Bannon’s views may be, Remnick should have had the fortitude to stick with his invitation regardless of other celebrity withdrawals. The alternative would have been to not invite Bannon in the first place, which is partly why the initial invitation surprised me as much as it did. As disconcerting as Bannon’s sentiments seem to be, his positions cannot be disregarded.
The soaring popularity of Trumpism is no excuse to de-platform an individual. Free society is bound to be slowed by the process of argumentation and debate. Inevitably heated discussions will continue to take place, but this healthy process of debate is put into jeopardy when opposition is silenced.
Bannon will have no problem finding other platforms to express his agenda, but willfully silencing a critic after extending an invitation just to save a lineup of popular guests (along with the revenue that a star-studded guest list brings), is a hypocritical application of liberal values.
How can Democrats expect to win over voters in future elections if they do not uphold basic principles that they claim to be the foundation of their party? George Orwell once wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” With free speech issues, more is at stake than mere argument. Free speech is arguably the core basis of all democratic societies, past and present. If free speech can become limited in some capacity, liberty itself will be vulnerable.
The free exchange of ideas is one of the great cornerstones of our society’s principles. This does not mean that all ideas must be treated as being equal morally and intellectually but allows for all ideas, virtuous or corrupt, to be openly debated and ultimately decided upon by the people.
The best ideas of how to advance the prosperity, peace and freedom of a society should ideally win out in the long run. Offense is not a crime in a free society, however, and ideas that seem detestable to some will always seem delectable to others. Bannon will undoubtedly remain a polarizing political figure in America, but his right to free speech is as innate as that of other Americans.
As a society, we must continue to defend free speech at all costs and in all cases—liberty depends on it.
Devin Luginbill is a junior engineering physics major. He is a copy editor for the Newswire from Columbus Grove, Ohio.