I haven’t tended to write about potential existential-threat-in-chief Donald Trump, because most of the important things have been said about him already. I would think that all it would take to point out that he is simply unfit for office would be for the news to report the words that he says. Unfortunately, I appear to have a pathological disorder where no matter all the evidence in front of me that tells me I should keep my expectations low for human behavior, as I never cease to be disappointed. Americans are more than willing to vote for this nationalistic four-time bankruptcy filer with no sign of slowing down.
However, I don’t think it has been emphasized enough just how much of a threat Trump is to our most cherished amendment: the one that gives us license to free speech, free expression, and religion. He’s built a platform on “saying what he thinks” and avoiding “political correctness”, but his words indicate a backlash from these things far worse than mere social consequences. Say what you will about the Regressive Left and the SJWs, and complain that your voice isn’t needed in a queer-only safe space or that white people are asked to move to the back of a BLM protest. These aren’t requests enshrined in law, but a mere grassroots effort to shift the focus to the people who aren’t the dominant voice. As such, these “politically correct” behaviors are hardly the authoritarian left they are made out to be, contrasting to what Donald Trump proclaims to want to enact. He wants to use government force to make people to speak the way he wants to, and does so proudly as he proclaims himself as the “Law and Order” candidate. His avoidance of political correctness extends far beyond that of himself, but he wants it explicitly encoded into the rulebooks across the United States. Anyone who remotely values free speech should honestly be terrified.For one thing, he clearly doesn’t value the free press whatsoever. In his own words, “We’re going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected”. It says a lot about a potential president’s perception of free speech if he wants to make it far easier to literally prevent people from legally sharing their opinions. Do I really need to dredge up my high school government notes to share why a free press and the ability to criticize is so important? I might think that the Breitbarts, the Blazes, and the Foxes are absolute trash and have blood on their hands for the sea of bloodshed and bigotry that has harmed the marginalized across the country. My issue is not, however, that they have the right to criticize liberals and president Hussein Obama, but that they do a terrible job. Trump, however, cannot seem to take any criticism and has no compulsions of using the force of law to prevent it.
Indeed, Trump is no stranger to the SLAPP suit, which has plagued all kinds of activists in the skeptical movement for merely criticizing others (the last link is a bunch of scientists doing a mere study, not activists). The point of these often pointless lawsuits is to force the victim to choose between being extorted tens of thousand dollars on legal fees or to shut up. According to Trump, “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.” There is a mantra from free speech advocates that I largely agree with that the best cure for bad speech is more good speech in response, and this absolutely defies it. Instead of this, according to the Donald, we should just enshrine criticism as categorically unallowable.
In theory, these libel suits could be filed by anybody, against anybody, and therefore anyone has equal access to it. However, due to the defense costs, it has the effect of only working for the rich and silencing the poor. It is infected with the corporate-dicksucking attitude that plagues the rest of America of allowing the rich to buy off the law for their own benefit. Donald Trump won’t have to even consider whether he should file a SLAPP suit in the future if he gets his way, but the nearly 30% of people in America (and increasing) that fall under the lower class have no hope. This is textbook “free speech for me, but not for thee”.
There’s another prong of free speech regarding Trump that shouldn’t even be disputed, but I live in a country with approximately 50 million assholes who will dispute it, so I suppose I’m obligated to. I’m referring, of course, to his complete disregard for actual religious freedom.
Trump will say that he supports religious freedom, but he says a lot of things. He actually cited religious freedom within the context of free speech in his RNC acceptance speech, stating that he wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment. This will effectively give special privileges of churches above other nonprofit organizations to endorse candidates and invoke political speech, something tax-exempt organizations are unable to do. This is an explicit government endorsement of religion, which violates the second prong of the Lemon Test (and possibly other two prongs) which states that “its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.” For this, it values religious speech over secular speech. So much for free speech for everyone.
This is no surprise, coming from a guy who needs the evangelical vote to even hope to get elected. He has no problem doing this sort of pandering to his voter base. This advocacy for evangelical speech is in his contrast to explicit denial of the freedom of religion for Muslims. This is practically a pillar of his platform, so I shouldn’t really need to go into it, but it would be irresponsible to mention it. This is a man who wants to ban Muslims from immigrating “until we can figure out what’s going on”. This is a man who wants surveillance of mosques. This is establishing an institutional thought crime for having particular beliefs. I may agree with the right that it’s silly that Democrats tend not to name and criticize the ideas of Islam, but that barely contrasts with fascist authoritarian ideal of punishing the people who hold these ideas. But this fascism is hardly out of place from a man who would like to kick a man out of the United States for not pledging a mindless loyalty oath to a country that continues to denigrate people who look like him.
It’s absolutely baffling the lengths that Donald Trump will go to actually swing against “political correctness”. Sure, he’s welcome to make “anti-political correctness” as part of his platform just as much as Barack Obama is able to talk about “hope and change”. But to enshrine anti-political correctness into law? Trump seems perfectly happy to do this, judging by his comments showing that he doesn’t take kindly to stores saying “Happy Holidays”, and would apparently want to improving America by saying “We are going to start saying merry Christmas again.” Besides his laughably false premise that stores can’t say Merry Christmas, it’s an absolute false equivalence. People are “politically correct” around the holidays because they want to be inclusive to people of diverse religious beliefs. Stores are “politically correct” likely because they also value lots of customers and want to make everyone feel welcome to shop there. By contrast, this anti-political correctness of forcing America to avoid these is an overreach into the personal lives of citizens, and is drastically more authoritarian than any trending politically correct phrase.And do I even need to mention Donald’s apparent desire to censor that bastion of open dialogue and discussion, the internet? Apparently so, because so called free speech advocates apparently don’t care to address it, so I have to. It’s astonishing that anyone could support this man with such a laughable idea, which is not only laughable as a law in the United States, but has the potential to overreach and censor other countries.
None of this is surprising from a man who apparently doesn’t even understand the First Amendment. Demonstrating that Trump definitely needs some better fact-checkers in his campaign, he sent out a complaint on Twitter that protesters in Chicago were violating his First Amendment rights. This isn’t the broad usage of “free speech” that refers to open dialogue, avoiding shouting down, and getting all sides represented regardless of how absurd*. He literally invoked the word of law. It took constitutional lawyer and professional taker-of-no-shits Andrew Seidel to set him straight.
@realDonaldTrump: The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America
@AndrewLSeidel: The First Amendment protects citizens from the government, not from unfriendly audiences. The President couldn’t “open up libel laws against the media without violating two 1st Amendment rights: free speech and press. The President couldn’t assault reporters or have his staff rough them up so as not to dirty his tiny hands. The government didn’t shut down your rally. In fact, the police didn’t even raise safety concerns (despite what you’ve said). The protesters were exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. That’s why the police didn’t shut them down. You see @realDonaldTrump, the First Amendment protects everyone, including fascists like yourself. The First Amendment is the only thing that allows you to be such an insufferable, insubstantial blowhard.
In fact, the best thing I can say about Donald Trump’s policies regarding free speech is that they are about as impossible as creating a 2,000 mile-long wall, which is to say that his best quality is that he won’t be very good at doing his job. Many of his proposals are blatantly unconstitutional, and far out of the reach of a president. It bears repeating that the president is not a dictator and he will still have to go through the checks and balances of other branches of government to enact any sort of substantial change on the country. And considering Trump’s apparent lack of knowledge on any of this and his total lack of government experience, he will not be able to accomplish much. Still, the president is allowed to make executive orders, and I don’t think any free speech advocate should be willing to allow him any of that power.
In light of this, I don’t understand how any of the alt-right lets this slide. It baffles me that speakers like gay-against-his-best-interests Milo Yiannopoulos will go to campuses on a supposed platform of free speech and open dialogue, and then openly fight for Donald Trump to become the leader of the free world. The violations against dialogue on the left are simply incomparable. Maybe you’re upset that you get social backlash from using “faggot” and “tranny”, but that’s merely a cultural shift and there’s no law against you being an asshole or a bigot. Maybe you’re upset that you’re kicked from a conversation, but that’s simply someone blocking you from Facebook or rejecting you from a support group or safe space. If you want to talk about harassment or banning policies on social media or campuses, I’m willing to have the conversation, but those are policies for those spaces. By contrast, Trump threatens an authoritarian regime that literally forces Americans everywhere from expressing themselves or saying what they want. It’s a blatant totalitarian enforcement of what people can say or think, and unlike most leftist stances, it explicitly wants the backing of the government behind it. This is a no-brainer. The alt-right can go on all it wants about being shouted down or getting backlash on social media. If they truly want to be seen as advocates of free speech, they need to explicitly denounce Trump and fight against a blatant push for fascism in this supposed land of the free, instead of proudly endorsing him. Until then, they cannot be taken seriously, and this double-standard must be called out.
EDIT: The day this post went up, as if Trump wished to prove my point, he and his campaign stifled free speech not once, but twice.
-The campaign, after allowing University of Arizona newspaper The Daily Wildcat to get credentials to report on Trump’s speech in Phoenix, removed the team from the press area with no explanation.
-At this speech, he demanded that we screen immigrants through an ideological test, stating that we should only keep people who “share our values”. This is thought crime.
Republicans don’t share my values either, can I send them to war-torn Syria and trade them for the refugees?
*There are two different usages of “free speech”, the legal usage and the idea of “free and open dialogue”. I still think it’s ludicrous to conflate the two and rope in the second usage, but I’ll use it if I must.