The LL Bean/Trump row: time for (another) free speech lesson

You have the right to speak. You have no right not to be disagreed with.

Let’s start with a brief quiz.

Bob says X. Fred says no, X is wrong. Has Fred:

a) infringed Bob’s free speech rights, or
b) engaged in free speech the way the Framers intended?

Answer below, in case you don’t understand how freedom works.

This isn’t a big deal, really, but I saw something this morning that reminded me just how little Americans understand liberty. So I thought I’d offer a brief refresher for those who slept through Civics class. 

If you missed it, LL Bean is waging an unwanted PR war because one of one of LL’s heirs threw a wad of cash at President-elect Donald Trump.

Some customers vowed to boycott the family-owned company after learning last week that Linda Bean, the granddaughter and heir of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean and a longtime Republican activist, bankrolled a political action committee in her efforts to support Trump.

That led L.L. Bean’s board chairman, Shawn Gorman, a great-grandson of L.L. Bean, to do something unusual for the company: address a political controversy head-on.

“We are deeply troubled by the portrayal of L.L. Bean as a supporter of any political agenda,” Gorman said in an open letter posted late Sunday night on Facebook.

What he’s mainly troubled by is the idea that revenues might dip, but that’s not why we’re here. The thing that got my hackles up is at the very end, when the Boston Globe reporter noted some of the activity on the company’s Facebook page.

“That’s it. No more Bean,” John Eismann from Oakwood, Ohio, posted on L.L. Bean Northport’s Facebook page, echoing other commentators.

To which Chris Dixon of Auburn, Maine, replied: “Good lord, so many people want to punish a good business over one person having free speech in the United States of America?”

That Chris guy may be a solid citizen in every way, but his grasp of the mechanics of free speech are tenuous, at best. So let’s do this one more time.

You have the freedom to say what you want. This does not afford you immunity from consequences, nor does it mean that those who voice disagreement are trying to deny you your free speech. On the contrary – that’s how free speech operates. You speak, I disagree, we go back and forth, hopefully intelligently, and eventually perhaps we arrive at some higher understanding of the subject being discussed. Or not. But disputing or boycotting, as the case may be, that’s all fair game.

And since this is America, we know that money is speech.

So Linda Bean availed herself of her right to “speak” by donating to Donald. Then “so many people” decided to “speak” back by taking their business elsewhere. If you want to call the due exercise of free speech “punishment” go for it. That is, of course, your right.

This ain’t rocket surgery, people.

You don’t really need me to give you the answer to the quiz, do you?

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