The First Amendment to the Constitution reads:
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.
Disclaimer: I am not a Trump supporter. Never will be.
Now that that’s out of the way, no one in the presidential campaign thus far has invoked as much controversy as Donald Trump. His remarks about Muslims, Mexicans, women, Democrats, Republicans, various news outlets, unions, celebrities, and various nations and their heads of state have- remarkably- offended a few people. If you’d like to keep track of his latest insults, here’s a running list provided by the “incompetent,” “failing,” “SAD!” “dopes” over at The New York Times.
I don’t really want to talk about any of that stuff, though. In fact, I think what Donald Trump is doing with his campaign is rather healthy for our country and election process. Much like how a quarter pound of reprocessed meat dipped in melted cheese and deep fried to lightly glisten in the summer sun can be a healthy dietary exercise according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The key is moderation.
But, back to my reason for writing this post, which concerns the First Amendment. By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about the recent protests and rioting occurring at many of Trump’s rallies. Chicago was a big one, but it’s only the most recent in a string of responses to the candidate’s support and message. First of all, the First Amendment is a freedom from government persecution; not a freedom for societies persecution. If Barack Obama directed the National Guard to disband a Trump rally, then freedom of speech would be infringed. But that’s not what’s been happening; because Trump and his supporters are well within their right to assemble and petition their government, regardless of how ridiculous and, at times, asinine that message may be. They are free to listen and support that message. And at the same time, the protestors are within their right to protest and petition at the rallies.
In the aftermath of the Chicago rallies, Trump denounced the protestors, calling them thugs and linking one of them to ISIS. The usual stuff. But what was more interesting to me was how his opponents responded.
Donald Trump has created a toxic environment. And a toxic environment has allowed his supporters and those who sometimes seek confrontation to come together in violence. There is no place for this, there is no place for a national leader to prey on the fears of people who live in our great country.
America is better than this. We don’t have to tear each other apart. When you have a campaign that disrespects the voters, when you have a campaign that affirmatively encourages violence, when you have campaign that is facing allegations of physical violence against members of the press, you create an environment that only encourages this sort of nasty discourse.
The ugly, divisive rhetoric we are hearing from Donald Trump and the encouragement of violence and aggression is wrong, and it’s dangerous. If you play with matches, you’re going to start a fire you can’t control. That’s not leadership. That’s political arson.
We do things a little different in this campaign: We bring people together. No, we are not gonna hate Mexicans. We are not gonna hate Muslims. We are not gonna insult women. We are not gonna insult veterans. We’re not gonna insult African-Americans. We will not allow the Donald Trumps of the world to divide us up.
You saw those images last night of people … often divided up on racial lines in many cases. Police officers bleeding from the head reminiscent of images from the ’60s. I mean, we’re going backwards here. This is a frightening, grotesque, and disturbing development in American politics.
What disturbs me about this situation isn’t that it took place. Yes, it was a crazy reaction that obviously has gotten out of hand. It was wholly unnecessary on the part of the protestors to engage and the supporters to respond. Also, Trump probably doesn’t make the situation better by suggesting security “rough up” the protestors, but I digress. There’s probably more of this kind of fighting to come, if we’re honest. It isn’t Trump’s comments that shocked me; it’s the response of his fellow candidates, from both parties, that bothers me.
Not a single candidate seized the opportunity to condemn the protestors for inciting a riot. Nowhere did any of them mention Trump’s supporters’ freedom to peaceably assemble- which they are free to do. All five remaining candidates spent their time denouncing Donald Trump in an effort to further their own campaign. In an effort to highlight their own principles, they failed to uphold the only principle uniting our country; our single founding document. And in doing so, in filing one by one against him, Cruz, Kasich, Clinton, Sanders, and Rubio only further validated Trump as the antithesis of establishment politics.
The greatest test of the First Amendment is not our constant reassurance that it exists; it’s moments like this. To reference 1995’s The American President; we celebrate free speech, yet we refuse to acknowledge those whose words make our blood boil, who are standing center stage advocating at the top of their lungs that which we would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of ours. If we want to claim this land as the land of the free, then the symbol of our country cannot just be a flag; the symbol must also be one of its citizens exercising their right to burn that flag in protest. Show me the candidate willing to celebrate that and I’ll show you the next great American President.
No candidate answered that call, and one of them is destined to become its’ defender.