Trump fine with punishing dissenters — if he disagrees with them

Like Trump, and many other Americans, I dislike it a lot when athletes refuse to stand for our national anthem. But our commitment to freedom of expression, and our rejection of mandatory conformity, can’t depend on whether we agree with the dissenters.

In calling on NFL owners and fans to punish athletes who engage in political protests, President Donald Trump has become a Super Bowl champion of something he purports to oppose: political correctness.

Apparently he’s fine with punishing dissenters, so long as he abhors what the dissenters are saying.

In recent years, many Republicans and conservatives have complained that political correctness — on university campuses, in workplaces and elsewhere — can squelch minority opinions and enforce a left-wing orthodoxy. They’re right.

What they mean is that if those in positions of power punish students, employees and others who dissent from the majority’s view, freedom is at risk, and society suffers. Suppose that students think that abortion is immoral; that affirmative action is a terrible idea; that people have a constitutional right to possess guns; that climate change is not a serious threat; that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.

If students know that they will be penalized if they say what they think — if they will be ridiculed or ostracized — they will just shut up. People won’t be able to learn from each other.

And note well: On one or more of those issues, those who silence themselves might even be right. So Trump was onto something when he said, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”

Like Trump, and many other Americans, I dislike it a lot when athletes refuse to stand for our national anthem. But our commitment to freedom of expression, and our rejection of mandatory conformity, can’t depend on whether we agree with the dissenters.

Call it the neutrality principle. As Justice Robert Jackson put it in…

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