Philosophy in Focus: Enemies of the state

I spent this week reading “A Theory of Freedom of Expression” by Thomas Scanlon, which ends by stating that repressive leadership may be acceptable in a society that believes it contains only servants and enemies. After watching the first presidential debate, it could not be clearer that President Trump wants to live in this kind of society.

We have lived through almost four years of evidence to support this. Over 210,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and there is no apparent end in sight. Millions are unemployed, and civil liberties protected by Supreme Court precedent are in jeopardy.

Still, the president condemned Antifa, an anti-fascist movement. He called for more “law and order” in response to widespread protest, while officers were breaking the very laws they claim to enforce. He prioritized a growing economy over the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.

This is not the behavior of someone who views others as equals. He sees, as Scanlon describes, only servants and enemies. Thus, from this perspective, an autocratic rule might make perfect sense for Trump, and probably does from where the “servants,” or the rest of his cabinet, are standing.

From this logic, those who oppose Trump and his government are “enemies” of the president, his controlled state and everyone who supports him. Yes, this is strong language, but the president himself has never hesitated to use stronger or more divisive words than these.

And he will be met with even stronger resistance. It is what he deserves, and it is what his opponents, including myself, are ready to give him. While we don’t want to be anyone’s enemy, we should always choose that path over one of servitude to a tyrant who conducts himself like an unruly toddler on national television.

I’ve heard many mourn for the lack of civility in today’s political climate. Mourn if you must, but then accept that the only way to reclaim civility is to fight for it. We will never have it as long as our president sees people who support science, equity and kindness as enemies

The president appears to value order and respect. But much like Scanlon’s hypothetical leader, he only desires respect for himself; it is obvious that he does not feel any obligation to respect others in the same manner. 

If the president and his “servants” won’t respect us, we will do so doubly. We will respect ourselves and each other in fighting for what this country needs.

In order to create a fair and equitable system, it is also necessary to view the president and his supporters as equal citizens, even as they try to polarize our nation and place themselves above us. On the ballot this November, remember to support the candidate whom you feel would respect you even if they didn’t have your vote.