Trump and Free Speech
Trump and freedom do not go hand in hand. His rhetoric is repugnant to the Constitution and to American values. Throughout his campaign, Trump has routinely attacked the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, all of which are integral to the American rule of law and provide us with the freedoms and liberties inherent in the American condition.
But Trump is rarely, if ever, called out on his calls for disobeying and flagrantly ignoring the Constitution. His supporters – a number of whom claim to love liberty and our government’s founding document – make excuses or promote a vision of American freedom that draws from the early 1800s before America became the beautiful melting pot it is today, before the white majority became but a large segment of a plural society that embraces the equal, fundamental rights of everyone – women, men, and ethnic and religious minorities. Their view of freedom is perverted and it’s being legitimized by Donald Trump. Defeating Trump is imperative to sustaining our freedom and our Constitution.
How, exactly, does the Donald seek to trample our freedoms? We’re compiling a handy list about Trump’s attempts to strip our freedom. This first edition covers his attempts to stifle speech and press.
Please feel free to share with those who oppose and support America’s worst nightmare. (And, if you like our piece, please consider donating so we can reach a wider audience!)
Free Speech: Trump’s response to protesters is truly frightening. At various times, he’s called for:
- The audience to hit protesters
- Supporters to rough up protesters to prevent our country from becoming weak
- People to “knock the crap out of” individuals carrying tomatoes (presumably to be thrown at him)
- His fans to defend him, even if it entails violence
But that’s not all. He’s also said he would:
- Pay the legal fees for those who hurt protesters
- “Like to punch [a protester] in the face”
Trump clearly detests protesters and has no problem with his supporters and rally-goers beating them up or in other ways causing them physical harm. No protesters should ever fear for their safety when presenting political arguments. But that’s exactly Trump’s goal: by creating and fostering an environment in which protesters are subject to violence and must fear for their well-being, Trump successfully squashes dissent. People won’t show up to protest his rallies because doing so imperils them; the only speech heard, then, is Trump’s divisive rhetoric. There’s no opposition and no challenge to Trump’s arguments.
If Trump’s actions towards protesters indicate how he would act while in office, we all have reason to fear. Trump extending his candidacy’s stance towards speech into the Oval Office would lead to a crackdown on opposition and dissension. Perhaps Trump supporters would continue to attack those appalled by Trump’s beliefs, perhaps Trump would take Nixonian or true authoritarian measures in order to prevent arguments from being made and to discourage anyone from speaking out against Trump. That could easily be done against protesters – any mass protest at a university or in a city could end with Trump using the National Guard to “restore order” – likely at the physical expense of the protesters.
But ending demonstrations and cracking down on those who oppose the administration (would President Trump move to withhold federal funds from universities whose professors challenge him? Try to cut any funds from public radio organizations who aren’t kind to him?) present just one facet of how Trump attacks and would attack free speech. Trump also despises the free press and his animosity seems to know no bounds.
And no, these protesters are not inciting violence. That is, unless you think this man wearing an American flag shirt deserved to be sucker punched, thrown to the ground, and kicked. Trump supporters are egged on by the candidate inflammatory rhetoric and calls for physical altercations, not by supposed and alleged violence on behalf of the protesters. But the latter provides a nice opt-out for Trump, who enjoys blaming others for problems he causes.
Free Press: Trump has no respect for the free press and its crucial role in democracy.
It’s become a fixture in Trump rallies for him to viciously attack reporters, calling them “scum,” saying ”they are really dishonest,” and that “they are disgusting.” Supporters take cues from Trump. This tweet from NBC’s Katy Tur shows a common occurrence at Trump rallies:
Another journalist described the vitriol and hatred emanating from Trump rallygoers prompted another journalist to remark “I’m surprised there hasn’t been an incident of someone throwing a blunt object and hitting a reporter in the head. I wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.”
Trump is creating a hostile environment for reporters at his rallies. But that’s not all – he actively punishes reporters who dare write things he finds “mean.” Ben Schreckinger of POLITICO found his press credentials rescinded by the campaign after he published a story critical of Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Cory Lewandowski. He was turned away from Mar-a-Lago during a – you guessed it – press conference.
Other reporters often face Trump’s harsh rhetoric on Twitter whenever they publish negative pieces about Trump or challenge him in debates. The aforementioned Katy Tur has faced Trump’s Twitter wrath, being called a “third-rate journalist.” Megyn Kelly of Fox News has been repeatedly subject to Trump’s vile rhetoric because she challenged Trump on his statements about women.
And let’s not forget Lewandowski’s battery charge for violently grabbing and throwing back Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields. Trump supporters love to claim the incidence never happened or that Fields lied. However, the facts and videos show otherwise (and how else did Fields get these bruises?).
Lewandowski originally claimed that the event never happened and that Fields was “delusional.” Well, that claim was undermined with video evidence, eye witness account, and Lewandowski’s arrest for battery. Rather than disavow the actions of his campaign manager, Trump stood by him, opting to use Twitter – his favorite platform – to accuse Fields of being a threat. He pointed to an object in her hand, alluding to the possibility that it could be a bomb (has Trump never seen a reporter holding a pen?). However, if Fields were such a threat, why did the Secret Service Agent standing by Lewandowski and Trump do nothing? Why did the campaign manager feel a threat, not the individual whose job is to protect the candidate?
In other words, no threat existed. Trump used Twitter to bully Fields and to blame the victim of a grossly violent act carried out by Trump’s thug of a campaign manager.
Beyond physical intimidation, Trump has also stated that as president he would loosen libel laws, making it easier to sue newspapers. That’s a direct attack on the free press – small outlets would not be able to publish critical pieces for fear of frivolous libel suit that would bleed them dry. Even a suit the outlet would win could cost millions of dollars in defense; a Trump administration would likely extend the proceedings as long as possible, regardless of veracity, to put financial pressure on the newspaper or source, using fiscal pressure to beat them into submission. That’s not freedom – that’s intimidation, bullying, and an attack on liberty.
The press plays an integral role in American democracy. Reporters and journalists hold politicians accountable for statements and for policy proposals; they offer unbiased, factual accounts of campaign happenings. They vet ideas and provide the information voters need to make informed decision at the polls. Without a strong Fourth Estate, voters would be ill-informed and democracy would suffer.
Trump’s attempts and successes in undermining trust in the press leads directly to voter misinformation and ignorance. His supporters refuse to believe any “mainstream” media outlet because Trump has denounced them. They instead believe every word Trump speaks or they turn to the right-wing fever swamps for distorted information and conspiracy-laced policy arguments. The press serves as the neutral arbiter in politics; Trump is ensuring that millions of people are deaf to objectivity and fact, only capable of hearing information through the biased (and very often wrong) mouth of Trump. He creates a situation in which all dissenters and doubters are not to be trusted. Opposing speech – whether subjective or objective – does not enter Trumpian and Trump supporter discourse because it has been injudiciously and illiberally chastised.
In short, Trump promotes ignorance and misinformation, which, in turn, perhaps furthers his candidacy.
A Trump presidency and free speech cannot coexist. His candidacy relies on misinformation and stifling dissent through intimidation or point-of-origin attacks. Free speech, perhaps the most important liberal element of a democracy, is weakened by Trump. We must ensure that he does not win the GOP nomination and certainly not the presidency or else our fundamental freedom will be suppressed.