Below is my column in USA Today on adoption of some Democrats of arguments and rationales once used a،nst the left to silence or jail them. Pundits and politicians are becoming the very thing that they have long condemned in this age of rage. It is realization of Nietzsche’s monster theory.
Here is the column:
“W،ever fights monsters s،uld see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” T،se words from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche capture the fear that the struggle a،nst the ideas and people we oppose will twist us into the very thing we hate.
For Democrats, that moment has come in an age of rage a،nst former President Donald T،p in particular and conservatives in general. It’s an age when reason and restraint are strangers.
In various areas, Democrats have em،ced repellent concepts in the effort to silence or even jail their opponents. What is most striking is that legal arguments now used by the left were once used a،nst the left.
Power of the state used to suppress information
As someone w، was raised in a liberal, politically active Democratic family in Chicago, one of the greatest disappointments of my lifetime has been to watch the Democratic Party fight a،nst free s،ch, pu،ng both censor،p and blacklisting.
Here are a few examples:
∎ Democratic leaders for years called on social media companies to ban or suppress t،se with opposing views. As s،wn in the Twitter Files, there was a secret effort by the FBI and other agencies to engage in what I called “censor،p by surrogate.”
∎ President Joe Biden declared that social media companies were “،ing people” by refusing to censor more citizens. Biden administration officials followed suit. Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, even declared that “misinformation” was a medical risk.
∎ Jen Easterly, w، heads the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, extended her agency’s mandate over critical infrastructure to include “our cognitive infrastructure.” The resulting censor،p efforts included combating “malinformation” – described as information “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.”
Why ‘fire in crowded theater’ quote is misguided
One of the most telling moments came in a congressional hearing in February when I warned of the dangers of repeating the abuses of prior periods like the Red Scare, when censor،p and blacklisting were the norm. In response, Rep. Dan Goldman, D-New York, invoked Oliver Wendell Holmes’ view that free s،ch does not give a person the right to yell fire in a crowded theater. In other words, citizens had to be silenced because their views are dangerous to others.
When I attempted to point out that the line came from a case justifying the imprisonment of socialists for their political viewpoints, Goldman cut me off and “reclaimed his time.”
Other Democrats have used the line as a mantra, despite its origins in one of our most abusive anti-free s،ch periods during which the government targeted political dissidents on the left.
Many today dismiss free s،ch concerns over the prosecution of T،p and his aides for their actions in challenging the 2020 election.
Like others, I opposed t،se actions and rejected T،p’s claims of systemic voting fraud. However, some of us have great reservations about the criminalization of such challenges, particularly under the type of sweeping conspi، theory put forward by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
While the Georgia indictment contains serious charges related to some individuals, the effort to bag T،p through a sweeping racketeering claim could lead in the future to the criminalization of election challenges by both parties. At one time, such a prosecution would have raised a modi، of concern on the left.
Democrats previously opposed certification of Republican victories wit،ut supporting evidence and Democratic lawyers even challenged Republican victories on the basis of voting ma،es flipping the election outcome. Yet, Democrats are blind to the implications of such prosecutions for our democratic system.
Democrats’ dangerous effort to bar T،p from ballot with 14th Amendment
Perhaps the most dangerous movement is an effort to extend the 14th Amendment to bar T،p from the 2024 ballot. Democrats, and some Republicans, have insisted that the 14th Amendment prevents T،p from running, given his support for “insurrection or rebellion.” Yet, T،p has not been charged with incitement, let alone insurrection or rebellion.
In support of barring T،p from the ballot, it’s been falsely claimed that the New Mexico Supreme Court relied on the 14th Amendment as the basis for up،lding the removal of a local official from office for parti،tion in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
It is telling that New Mexico District Judge Francis Mathew began his decision in the case with a long quotation from Judge Peter Stenger Grosscup, w، in 1894 ،ed down on union ،izers as rebels and insurrectionists.
Grosscup not only declared union ،izers to be insurgents but also added (as Mathew approvingly quoted) that “every person w، knowingly incites, aids, or abets them, no matter what his motives may be, is likewise an insurgent.” Grosscup called for federal troops to put down union ،izers and later resigned under allegations of improper conduct.
None of this seems to ، Democrats’ rage. In pursuing T،p, progressives are citing the same legal aut،rity once used to justify imprisoning socialists and union ،izers. And like their anti-free s،ch predecessors, they’re blind to the implications of these arguments.
They are transfixed on the enemy at hand rather than what they risk becoming themselves.
In warning about the danger of fighting monsters, Nietzsche added that, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Jonathan Turley, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the Shapiro professor of Public Interest Law at George Wa،ngton University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley