“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear” – George Orwell.
This strand of freedom means nothing at all to Donald Trump.
At every turn he shows no grasp, and certainly no reverence, for the fundamental liberty enshrined in our Constitution: to speak one’s mind without retribution.
So of course, pandering as he did to a red-meat Alabama crowd, he said the other day that football players who take a knee during the national anthem show “total lack of respect for everything we stand for.”
Sorry, Sir, but per this precious freedom, you are the one showing no respect.
Yes, we hear people – many in that Alabama crowd — exalt “freedom,” but they don’t really mean it. They exalt the type of liberty awarded to the motorist with the most horse power, or the developer with the best attorneys.
They exalt the type of freedom that will keep outsiders from moving into their neighborhoods.
They exalt the type of freedom that entitles a civilian to sling an AK-47 over his shoulder, or that which comes with imposing the majority’s religion on everyone.
In the most recent matter, the one that just roiled the NFL, Trump seeks to be a royal demagogue over a handful of athletes who peacefully have registered their dissatisfaction with our country by kneeling during the national anthem. They do not jump around and shout obscenities. They register their grievance in the most respectful way possible. In the case of Colin Kaepernick, it’s been at great risk to his career.
Trump is more troubled by this – by a player silently taking a knee – than a white supremacist chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”
For someone in the most powerful position in the United States to act this way shows someone sorely out of his shoe size.
On the campaign trail he said people who burn the American flag should be jailed and kicked out of the country. The U.S. Supreme Court, with Antonin Scalia writing the opinion, said that’s what totalitarians do.
You will bow to the flag, or your head will be removed. You know, like ISIS does.
A flag is a symbol, like these letters. The government can’t dictate symbolic speech. If it can tell people how to comport themselves around symbols on cloth, it can do the same with all other symbols, and all other symbolic speech.
It’s interesting: Before making that grandstand appeal as presidential candidate, on David Letterman’s late-night show, Trump agreed when Letterman voiced disdain for an effort to amend the Constitution to ban flag desecration. Though not supporting flag-burning, Letterman said our nation “is far greater than that symbol, and that symbol is standing for freedom of expression.”
Said Trump, “Sure. You’re 100 percent right.”
Sadly, in office, not only has Trump done the dictator’s dance regarding that symbolic expression, he’s called to change the laws so elected officials can sue the news media. Except in special circumstances, that’s something a unanimous Supreme Court prohibited in the landmark Times vs. Sullivan ruling in 1964.
Libel suits by elected officials would have a chilling effect on a free and probing press, said the court. Ah, but Trump has called the press “the enemy.”
This man who is so very big in the high-rise world truly is a flyweight when it comes to the weighty matters that distinguish this nation from others marked by totalitarians and the tantrums of power.
A bigger man, George Washington, said this of free speech: If it is taken away, “then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.