cover image The Short Life and Curious Death of Free Speech in America

The Short Life and Curious Death of Free Speech in America

Ellis Cose. Amistad, $23.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-06-299971-9

Journalist Cose (Democracy, If We Can Keep It) delivers a brisk and well-informed rundown of contemporary debates over the limits of the First Amendment. Noting that the ACLU fought on behalf of “white-rights activist” Jason Kessler to hold the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., Cose asserts that the concept of free speech as a universal, all-encompassing right was invented in the 20th century and is “inextricably linked to the notion that in the competition of ideas, good ideas generally crowd out bad.” He details how social media algorithms have exposed that truism as naive at best and dangerous at worst, and how corporations have asserted their First Amendment rights in order to “dominate political discourse” and justify and preserve social inequality. According to a legal scholar Cose cites, in the 2010 Citizens United decision abolishing limits on corporate campaign spending, the Supreme Court was “doing precisely the opposite of what it claimed to be doing... instead of protecting speech, the court was disempowering citizens.” Cose also examines how President Trump “brought the ethos of the internet to traditional media” by running a campaign “based on polarizing emotions and a war on truth.” Though short on practical solutions, Cose makes a persuasive argument that the balance between free speech and democracy is out of whack. Progressives will be drawn to this nuanced and wide-ranging account. (Sept.)