Much of the appeal in Donald Trump’s surreal presidential campaign comes from his willingness to speak his mind unfiltered. Supporters regard his flippant insults of political rivals, celebrities, and entire groups of people as courageous pushback against political correctness run amok. Given this it is perhaps ironic that one of the hallmarks of Trump’s platform is a megalomaniacal crusade against the First Amendment and the freedom of expression it guarantees.
In its entirety the First Amendment, perhaps the greatest pillar of our free society, 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.” Trump tramples on each and every word.
Evidence of Trump’s disdain for other people’s free speech is constantly on display. His high-profile feud with FOX News anchor Megyn Kelly began at the first GOP presidential debate when Kelly asked Trump about his misogynistic attitude toward women, prompting Trump to suggest she was on her period. Since then, Trump has threatened to boycott FOX on numerous occasions and for the last week has used Twitter daily to call Kelly “crazy” and “the most overrated person on tv.”
His war with the media goes far beyond Megyn Kelly. At rallies and speeches Trump routinely points to the press pit and refers to the people there as “disgusting,” “scum” and “the absolute worst,” accusing of them of “lies, deceit and viciousness.” As president, Trump vows he will “open up libel laws” so he can sue media outlets and make even more money. In his sociopathic head, libel would likely constitute any piece of information that is anti-Trump.
Despite those grievances no one has benefited more from the media’s sensationalism, dysfunction and profit bias than Donald Trump. The New York Times recently found that Trump has received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage over the course of his campaign, almost as much as his 16 opponents combined. CBS president Les Moonves made it clear the nonstop Trump coverage is all about ratings, saying, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
And the media’s friendliness to Trump gets even more explicit than that. Conservative, pro-Trump website Breitbart took Trump’s side over one of their own reporters, Michelle Fields, after Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, allegedly grabbed her by the arm and knocked her to the floor for asking a question. Fields and five others left Breitbart over the incident while Breitbart published disparaging remarks about some of their former employees.
The violence Fields experienced is routine at Trump events. His hateful rhetoric attracts protesters and riles supporters. Hardly a rally goes by without one or more of these protesters being attacked by the crowd with Trump’s blessing and encouragement. He truly enjoys watching members of his audience sucker-punch protesters. He pines for the good old days when protesters would be “carried out on a stretcher.”
Trump doesn’t even want his supporters having too much freedom of expression. Volunteers on his campaign are made to sign a loyalty oath stating, “During the term of your service and at all times thereafter you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the Company, Mr. Trump, any Trump Company, any Family Member, or any Family Member Company or any asset any of the foregoing own, or product or service any of the foregoing offer.”
These are the actions of the basest despot – forcing loyalty oaths, turning supporters into a goon squad to squash protesters, and attacking the media for negative coverage while commandeering the entire political narrative. But Trump doesn’t stop there.
Muslims are among the most frequent targets for Trump, leading American Muslim communities to be concerned about violent hate crimes. Trump said he would like to ban Muslims from entering the country, particularly in the wake of terror attacks in Paris and Brussels, giving actual terrorists the recruitment propaganda they need while stirring up hatred of innocent Muslims living here. He has also said Americans have “absolutely no choice” but to close down mosques as part of the war on terror.
Freedom of religion, freedom of speech and press, and freedom of protest are the three essential freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. Trump bulldozes through every one of them. Meanwhile he’s gotten tremendous mileage out of free speech protections by dominating media coverage, being a pathological liar, demonizing already marginalized groups and spending decades making the kinds of remarks that would, for any other person’s presidential campaign, be a serious liability.
Trump is certainly entitled to say whatever he likes. His supporters see him as a breath of fresh air for his willingness to say whatever is on his mind whether it’s PC or not – or even whether it’s true or not. But if he has his way the rest of us may not have those same freedoms for long. Like everything else in this world, Trump wants the First Amendment all to himself.