President-elect Donald Trump has announced the appointment of Steve Bannon to be his strategic right-hand man. Bannon is the former executive editor for Breitbart News, a right-wing news site notorious for publishing articles sympathetic to white nationalism that also stir racist fears and anti-Semitism. Bannon’s site has abused the First Amendment to threaten minorities, women, and Trump’s political enemies.
That’s not the worst of it.
As a former journalist, I’m appalled at Trump’s thinking about our human rights when it comes to free thought. Throughout the campaign, Trump disrespected any member of the press he disliked, calling them “scum,” banned reporters from covering his campaign, insulted journalists with disabilities, and promised to reform the nation’s libel laws to make lawsuits against journalists easier. The appointment of Bannon confirms his attitude. His words and behavior are intended to discourage criticism, particularly from the left, and tamp down expected probes by mainstream journalists into his policies and behavior as president.
Wait, there’s more.
According to the Author’s Guild, a writer’s advocacy group, President Trump could veto the SPEAK FREE Act, a bill that would prohibit so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP suits. Corporations and individuals file these suits to discourage writers and journalists from publishing material that “harms” plaintiffs.
Given his cavalier attitude toward copyright, as witnessed by his use of music and images in his campaign without permission of the owners, Trump is unlikely to pursue copyright reform, such as laws that prevent copyrighted works from entering the public domain essentially forever.
He’s also likely to show little sympathy for net neutrality, a government policy that guarantees equal access to the internet for all Americans. Without net neutrality, the country will further bifurcate into digital haves and have-nots. Because writers tend to fall into the latter category economically, they will suffer if this right is lost.
Here’s how you can resist these threats.
Speak out – The First Amendment guarantees your right to speak and publish freely. Use your rights with calm determination. Inform, entertain, and educate, but never incite violence or hate. Don’t sink to Trump’s demagogic level.
Buy a newspaper – As it is with politics, money is the mother’s milk of free speech. Support newspapers, magazines, public radio and television, non-profits practicing independent investigative journalism, and writers of all stripes, fiction and non-fiction. Everyone needs to put food on the table, and your financial support helps independent writers and journalists practice free thought in a public setting.
Donate to advocates – Here’s a non-comprehensive list of organizations that fight for free speech in courts of law and the court of public opinion.
Giving these organizations money or joining their membership ranks helps them sustain the fight.
You may be thinking that President Trump would never do all the things he says he’s going to do. Don’t fool yourself. Take him at his word, or your rights may be eroded bit by bit until you didn’t notice that they had disappeared. Instead, defend them now, if not for your sake, for your children’s sake.
How will you defend your free speech rights?