December 18, 2017

Banning Words is a Bad Idea No Matter Which Side Does It

CensorshipSocial media has been buzzing with reports that the Trump administration is attempting to ban the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies that are part of the Department of Health and Human Services from using the following words: "evidence-based," "science-based," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "entitlement," and "vulnerable." It sounds like some agencies are even being instructed to avoid other words too (e.g., using "Obamacare" in place of the correct name of the legislation).

Many on the political left are invoking Orwell's 1984, crying "fascism," and condemning the efforts. They are right to do so. They also would have been right to object to any of the efforts we have seen by others on the left to ban various words. Sure, there is a massive difference between a political administration instructing federal agencies not to use certain words and some celebrity launching a laughable public campaign to ban words. There's no question about the magnitude of the difference. But don't think for a second that the left doesn't have several words they'd like to ban and forms of speech they'd like to criminalize.

If efforts by the right to ban words should be condemned (and they absolutely should be condemned), efforts by the left to ban words should be condemned too. The authoritarian attempts at language-policing are misguided, and they should be opposed no matter whether they are coming from the right or the left.

As for Trump, I seem to remember that some people said they supported him at least in part because they thought he'd end political correctness. Not only has he not ended it, but he seems to have fully embraced it here. Trying to ban words is exactly what many on the political right have objected to. Will they oppose these recent efforts by Trump with the same intensity with which they have opposed similarly misguided efforts from the authoritarian left, or are they merely hypocrites?