President Donald Trump’s tweets and the inalienable right of free speech may appear to be two separate concepts, but I believe they are related, if not intertwined. How? Read on, and I will demonstrate.
First and foremost, let me say that some of Mr. Trump’s tweets are over-the-top, embarrassing and inappropriate to the office of the president. I understand his general desire to tweet. He perceives it as a means to counteract the predominantly adverse media coverage of his presidency by disseminating his opinions and viewpoints directly to the public, roughly equivalent to FDR’s “fireside chats.” In these cases, he is merely exercising his right to free speech.
However, there is no need for derogatory name-calling. For example, he doesn’t have to refer to Elizabeth Warren repeatedly as “Pocahontas.” Everyone knows she lied about her supposed Indian heritage. No need to “beat a dead horse.” Similarly, repeatedly referring to Kim Jong Un as “little rocket man” is not helpful to resolving the current tension between the US and NK. It may have been funny the first time, but no need to keep repeating it. Sometimes Mr. Trump acts like he is engaging in a high school “rank out” session.
In addition, I disagree with his re-tweeting of the anti-Muslim video put out by the Britain First group. That’s one case where he should have paused before hitting “send.” On the other hand, I feel that the quotes of some of the members of Parliament (“racist,” “fascist,” “stupid”) were a bit extreme, but they are entitled to exercise free speech too.
All that said, I remain an avid Trump supporter. I prefer to focus on what he has done, is doing and wants to do rather than on a few tweets. For example, he has been very aggressive towards combating terrorism. ISIS’ territory in the Middle East has been reduced considerably. He is a strong supporter of the military and veterans’ rights. I support his immigration policies, which, though much criticized, for the most part merely advocate enforcing laws already on the books. Most Americans feel safer today than they did last year. He advocates putting America and Americans first. He has been a strong supporter of Israel and other allies, such as Japan and South Korea. He has improved relations with China, which I view as critical, prospectively. The economic outlook is promising. Unemployment is down. The stock market, which is an objective barometer of consumer and business confidence, is at record levels. He has managed to arrest, if not reverse, the PC madness that has been afflicting us the past few years. He managed to get a moderate Justice appointed to the Supreme Court. Has he been a flawless president? No. After all, he failed to repeal/amend Obamacare, and he has yet to get tax reform passed. But, name one president who was devoid of negatives. One has to look at the overall situation. Some of you may not like it either, but half the country does.
The larger disturbing issue is the deterioration of free speech, not only in the US but also abroad. We are now on a slippery slope where it has become acceptable to object to, demonstrate against, or outright ban speech that is deemed, by some, to be objectionable. Whatever happened to that oft-quoted philosophy “I strenuously object to what you are saying, but I will fight to the death defending your right to say it?”
On many college campuses conservative speakers, such as Ann Coulter, have been banned, demonstrated against or attacked. Recently, this selectivity reached a new low when at Evergreen State University in Olympia, WA a group of students attacked a liberal professor because he refused to support a “Day of Absence.” They labeled him a “white supremacist,” attacked and insulted him relentlessly and vociferously, and demanded the college terminate his employment. The liberal-leaning NY Times characterized this an as example of “free speech activists …. turning their ire on free- thinking progressives.” The article added “without free speech what’s liberalism all about?” Indeed.
I am not a constitutional law scholar, but I do have what I think is a reasoned, logical, common sense opinion on this matter. First of all, if we endorse the concept that certain types of speech by certain groups can be banned, where does it all end? Furthermore, who decides what is objectionable and what is not? Isn’t that what totalitarian governments do?
I think most people would agree that banning any speaker or speech puts us on a slippery slope. Today, we ban Nazi sympathizers. Most of us can agree that their ideas are repugnant in the extreme. However, tomorrow, it could be advocates of abortion or “choice.” After that, it could be gay rights or certain religious advocates.
In the 1970s the Supreme Court opined that the college classroom is a “marketplace of ideas. …. All viewpoints and opinions – no matter how offensive or disagreeable …should be allowed to come out” Makes sense to me, but we have drifted away from that concept.
Another example. Some of you may recall that in the 1970s the Supreme Court opined that Nazi sympathizers were entitled to march in a parade in Skokie, IL despite the public outcry and the fact that many Holocaust survivors lived in the area.
England has a law on its books banning free speech that constitutes “expressions of hatred toward someone due to their color, race, disability, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or sexual orientation.” Sounds good, but, again, who decides what violates the law? Today, the supposed violator is the group “Britain First.” Tomorrow, who?
Like I said, where does it all end, and who decides? Ultimately, the answer to the second question is the courts. The answer to the first is badly, very badly.