We’re less than two months away from a President Trump, and already President-elect Trump has tried to suppress our constitutional rights. With all the comings and goings at Trump Tower as he puts together his administration, his behavior on free speech, press, and assembly ought to give heart to conspiracy theorists.
Here’s my contribution: Trump is out to gut the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Perhaps nothing illustrates this plan better than this tweet:
Flag-burning, as odious as it may be, is protected speech under the Constitution, confirmed by the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Eichman, which struck down a federal law banning flag-burning.
Trump’s attack on the First Amendment started less than a day after the November 8 election, when he accused “professional protesters” of inciting protests against the result, and blamed the media for fanning the flames.
His next attempt came November 18, when he demanded an apology from the Broadway cast of the musical Hamilton, after the cast made up of all races (looking a lot like America) begged Vice President-elect Mike Pence and the incoming Trump administration to respect all citizens’ rights. Two days later, Trump berated Alec Baldwin of NBC’s Saturday Night Live for his hilarious impression of the ex-candidate, demanding “equal time.”
On November 22, Trump jerked around the New York Times, agreeing to an interview, cancelling the interview, then agreeing to it again, a day after he browbeat television news executives and personalities for their coverage of him during the campaign.
His attitude is clear: Be nice to my administration, or you’ll pay for it.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
A recap of your rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The prohibition applies to presidents as well.
As a former newspaper and radio reporter, I’m most alarmed by the assault on press freedoms. Trump will soon have the immense and frightening power of the federal government in his hands, and history has shown that some presidents are unafraid to abuse it. It’s highly unlikely, even with a conservative Congress behind him, that he could repeal the text of our most cherished amendment. However, as president, Trump is in a unique position to bully the media into parroting his words and putting a positive spin on his policies. His direct appeals via social media could rally supporters to pressure local and national media to be nice to him or else, thus suppressing a key channel for dissent. The same tactic could work against protestors and the entertainment media.
For its part, the national news media has an unfortunate history of falling into line as new presidents take office, though virtually all the previous office-holders had none of the demagogic personality traits of Trump. In his case, reporters, editors, and producers will have to work extra hard to resist his bullying from the bully pulpit, else he will get away with a de facto repeal of all our rights as Americans.
This post was updated November 29 to include information about the flag-burning tweet.
What do you think? Should the media be “nice” to the incoming president?