Trump suggests compromising First Amendment
President Donald Trump has not been the greatest supporter of the First Amendment. While running for president, he expressed interest in ‘opening’ up libel laws once he gained the presidency so that he “can sue [writers and sources of ‘fake news’] and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” A mere month into his presidency, he threatened the Johnson Amendment, which would have taken a massive stab at the separation of church and state. He has had a history of demonizing the press as the “enemy of the people” and barred journalists from events such as White House briefings. After the North Korea-US Summit, Trump expressed that he wanted his people to treat him as North Koreans treat Kim Jong Un.
Considering the fact that he is a man who is praised by his supporters for “speaking his mind,” he doesn’t appear to want to enforce that same right for the people he should represent.
In response to the protests against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Trump said “I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that. I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on.”
He appeared to reminisce, saying that “in the old days, we used to throw them out. Today, I guess they just keep screaming.”
Frankly, the topic of protest should not even matter. It is disgraceful that people, regardless of their stance on Trump, the current administration, and Judge Kavanaugh, are not taking strides to defend democracy and one of the major pegs that maintains it: the freedom of speech.
It is disappointing to see the audience that usually screams “freedom of speech!” and “First Amendment” in times such as the controversial Oregon bakery case, which deemed the baker’s wish to discriminate against a gay couple’s request for a wedding cake because of his personal religious beliefs, seems to be ominously silent when our president is trying to chip away at the fundamental tenet that allows democracy.
The First Amendment does not care what your opinion of Trump as a president is or whether you believe private businesses have the right to decide who to serve. Its duty is to make sure that your voice, if you want it to be heard, can be expressed without persecution.
Former President Barack Obama has had his fair share of criticisms before, during, and after his two terms as President of the United States. However, as he pointed out recently in his speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, “I complained plenty about Fox News, but I never threatened to shut them down.” It’s quite a contrast to the countless tweets Trump made at “fake news” sources and anyone who doesn’t portray him in the most favorable angle.
Is Trump sending empty threats to create a stir? Quite possibly; if anybody knows how to use the sleight of hand to distract the masses, it’s Trump. Even if he doesn’t completely deny people the right to protest, he is still creating obstructions that discourage and inhibit people from doing so and potentially creating antecedents to ideologies that may later enable censorship.
In the Declaration of Independence, “Freedom of Speech” does not have an asterisk that leads to a microscopic footnote at the end reading “Terms and conditions may apply”. Freedom of speech does not protect just popular speech; it allows all of us to have a voice without the fear of persecution. It allows Colin Kaepernick, as well as other National Football League players, to take a knee for the national anthem. It allows people to demonstrate their dissent towards the current administration. Are some protests more effective than others? Of course. However, we should not demonize the mere act of protesting.