In American life, it seems that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction: intellectualism and rising anti-intellectualism, eight years of Barack Obama and the election of Donald Trump, large advances in civil rights and the retraction of those rights (e.g., Dobbs v. Jackson). But no neat system of binaries would stand without eventual collapse when faced with a topic like free speech. Society shifts with the demarcations of history and our current reality is the result of many interconnected political and sociocultural factors.
People coming from nearly all positions of the political spectrum can seem to become exercised over free speech issues. Within the past year, the following types of incidents have thus occurred: the heckling of conservative speakers, debates over trigger warnings, debates over course content (and the expanding canon), student discomfort with specific topics, self-censorship, cancel culture and what some decry as a lack of viewpoint diversity on campuses. Considering that any situation that involves free speech is highly specific, each incident has a unique context and is a unique combination of the phenomena listed above.