In Arthur Miller’s superb examination of the nature of fanaticism, The Crucible, the key moment comes not with the initiation of the Salem witch trials which form the subject of the play, but in the leading character finally and fully rejecting them. The point of crisis comes when John Proctor refuses to sign his name to the condemnation of supposed witches which would justify their horrific punishment. ‘How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul, leave me my name.’ It is the moment when a man finally finds the courage that is essential to any meaningful masculinity, the courage to defy the absolute consensus of opinion that harms the innocent and taints those who accept it with complicity in evil.
The lesson here is that moral strength is not always shown by action, but sometimes by the refusal to take actions which facilitate oppression. The connection might not immediately be apparent to many of us, but it is in fact this kind of moral strength that President Trump displays with remarkable frequency. In an age of liberal conformities, and increasingly intolerant and inquisitorial demands that every person in the Western world should sign up to a narrow set of political opinions, Trump consistently defies such demands. Like John Proctor, he will not sign his name to things which might well make his life and presidency easier but would in moral terms represent a surrender of moral credibility and integrity.
It would, for instance, have been very easy for Trump to sign up to President Macron’s proposals for a charter on ‘hate speech’ at the latest G7 summit. It is absolutely certain that almost all recent US presidents would have done so, regardless of the potential complications arising from such a policy given the First Amendment rights of US citizens. In terms of media response, legal challenge and international reaction Trump’s life would have been made significantly easier by following the example of every other G7 leader and blindly signing his name in agreement with Macron’s virtue signaling and totalitarian move to police global free speech. Signing his name might even have resulted in rare praise from those who have long treated Trump himself and all his followers as blasphemous witches who must be daily immolated with fiery criticism. At least a temporary pause in the media war against him might have been the reward offered in return for meek compliance.
But Trump, characteristically, refused such inducements. Once again he chose the road of greater difficulty, through a terrain of predictable abuse. Once again he preserved his name and soul by not conceding to the misguided consensus of those currently in charge of every other major Western power.
Let us be clear exactly what Macron’s proposal for a charter on hate speech entails. It ensures the formal, legal adoption of a hypocritical vice that has overwhelmed several different nations already. Major tech companies are of course already enforcing the same censorious and controlling responses that Macron wishes to see given the authoritative endorsement of the G7. Under the ludicrous notion of hate speech sensible and established moral codes on free speech (like allowing anything that is not a direct incitement to violence) are abandoned in favor of the idea that a small number of powerful liberals should subjectively and selectively decide what does and does not constitute hateful commentary. What this results in, as we have already seen and indeed as many of us have experienced, is that all forms of conservative, traditional, patriotic, or libertarian thinking, publicly expressed, can be classified alongside genuine extremism. Perfectly legitimate opinions that defy the liberal consensus are subject to arbitrary silencing, to the removal of services of communication, to demonetizing strategies of thought control and to potential terms of imprisonment. The interpretation of emotion like hate is always subjective, and simply results in allowing one side of politics to be hateful with impunity, whilst the other side must wrap their language in so many layers of softening vagueness and apologia that any meaningful point is lost. Conservatives, republicans and libertarians must sound like liberals in order to be allowed to speak at all.
The ultimate intention, of course, is that the silenced views will simply wither away in darkness, and that at some future point it will become impossible even to think in a conservative manner. We will have lost the tools by which such thoughts are formed.
It is not therefore just in the personal example he sets by speaking his mind and damning the censure of fools that Trump plays a vital role. It is also by refusing to sign up to things which damn us all to perpetual silence and ostracism that he shows a moral strength missing from almost any other Western leader. As he did with the Iran deal or the Paris Accord he resists the tyranny of a consensus that rests solely on liberal prejudice. But no resistance can be more important than this refusal to sign up to a globalist control of language. Our free speech is the right that allows us to discuss, to understand, to share knowledge of the excesses of those in power. It is the first freedom upon which all others are founded. Once it is gone entirely, it will be almost impossible to recover. When Trump says leave me my name, he defends not only himself, but us too.