FORT WAYNE – Censorship of political speech is not new. In fact, in world history freedom of speech is rarer than censorship. In the United States, expanded freedom of speech and freedom of the press (the corollary of free political speech) are among the hallmarks of what makes our nation different. The focus of this is not whether Donald Trump should get his Twitter finger back, though it is certainly a current, visible example of our nation once again re-defining censorship.

Traditional media, in every decision, must pick and choose what to cover. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television have space and time constraints. So even does social media, in different ways. One of the biggest constraints is simple; consumers also have time constraints.

When Adolph S. Ochs in 1897 put “All the News That’s Fit to Print” on the masthead of the New York Times, he meant it as a statement that stressed the “all” meaning not just partisan newspapers, often owned by candidates, parties and interests jockeying for political control. “Fit to print” is how they sorted themselves from scandal sheets that truly did and still do produce “fake” news, not news called fake by people who disagree with it.

Slanted news (i.e. one-sided facts) is not fake, though it can lead to false conclusions. In other words, omission or exaggerated emphasis can easily lead to a false conclusion. Incomplete facts are dangerous because they appear to be true. But they are not “fake.”

In today’s political debate, the allies of former President Trump routinely refer to news that advocates for the other side as “fake news.” This problem on the right is not going away whether or not Trump is relevant in the future. It has become ingrained.

On the left, it is similar but manifests in numerous ways, though not through the usage of “fake.”

They tend to attack what are called “biases” – the establishment, white supremacy, nationalist, imperialist, capitalist, or other such justifications to deny legitimacy to alternative views.

In fact, the left-wing corollary to right-wing yelling and discrediting of media and those with whom they disagree as “fake news” is the left’s takeover of liberalism with the nickname of the “cancel culture.” The left-wing political censorship has two approaches. One is to silence former President Trump and his allies.

Disaffected Trump people, who felt that their ideas were rejected unfairly, were vulnerable to being convinced – including by Russian and other sites with a vested interest in chaos – that the election was stolen, the American system cannot be trusted, that everybody who disagreed was part of a “plot,” that an individual strong leader was more important than a coalition of a party, etc. Most Trump supporters who feel that way are not Russian dupes nor did they support the storming of the U.S. Capitol Building. Most BLM people also don’t support the violence that occurs after their protests. Most are not part of Antifa.

Don’t, however, claim one side is captured and represented by the extremists, but the other is not. Both are penetrated but that does not mean that the majority agree with the extremists. Nearly all conservative media, and the majority of Republican politicians are bowing to hard right pressure feeding the false view that the election and the system are corrupted. Nearly all liberal media, and the majority of Democrat politicians, are bowing to hard-left pressure to jam the enforcement of “cancel culture” with no balanced discussion.  

The danger for both conservatives and liberals is that when you align yourself with people who are intent on wrecking trust in the basic American system (deliberate or not), claiming that it is inherently corrupt, that it is evil, that it cannot be reformed, you are well on the path to being a useful tool of those bent on destroying our basic constitutional principles.

You become part of those assaulting the system while trying to win reelection or, in the case of media, catering to people who watch you or subscribe. The mantra that, “I can do no good if I lose or go out of business” has truth in it, but if you are essentially assisting the assault on our values, how are you all that different from those who invaded the Capitol or torched buildings in Portland? You are what, in alcoholism, would be called an “enabler.”

The lines between trying to overturn an election that has been certified by 60 courts, all states and Congress and that of claiming that the court system is white supremacist and that all police forces are corrupt are basically invisible. It is just the same argument from the other side. Increasing numbers from both sides don’t seem to understand that the false premises are the same, and the threat to the system. They are too busy yelling about the threat from the other side.

Sharp differences on major issues always have and always will cause conflict. Our nation was created with an internal contradiction on race – claiming freedom for all but denying it for Black slaves – that was finally resolved by a civil war. But the fact is that before the Civil War and since the Civil War, America has teetered on violent internal conflict many times.

The Shays Rebellion (1786-1787) was an early tax rebellion that attempted to capture a Massachusetts armory. The Whiskey Rebellion (1794) in Pennsylvania, another tax rebellion, required President Washington to send in federal troops. Coxey’s army of unemployed workers marched on Washington in 1894, because of an economic depression that was the worst in American history up until that time. The federal government responded rather violently to break it up.

In the early and middle part of the 20th century, there were massive protests and threats to our economic system, including penetration by the Russian-controlled Communist Party. There were massive protests by veterans who sacrificed but were ignored after major wars.

Race riots burned significant parts of downtowns of major cities in the 1960s. There were massive anti-Vietnam war protests and campus violence. JFK was fatally shot in 1963. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. On June 6, 1968 – just two months later – Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. In the ‘60s and into the early ‘70s it seemed as though this nation was about to completely come apart at the seams because it was.

A core question today is this: Are the institutions that helped hold us together, push desired reforms and avoided civil war still there with credibility? The church? The media? Business leaders? Education leaders? And now, apparently, even respect for the courts and the government itself? Is there any trust or respect left?

Our nation needs politicians and leaders willing to risk losing – not necessarily losing, but risking it – to take stands explaining things to their own side. We don’t need more people to explain how the other side should behave. Right now, Democrats are cowering from their left more than Republicans are from the Trump saluting on the right (though not by much). Profiles in courage are hard to find.

We need leadership from those elected to lead.

Souder is a former Republican congressman from Indiana.