Trump requires constant scrutiny
— We all know Donald Trump loves the Second Amendment (guns). But the First Amendment? Not so much.
It’s really simple, as most precious things are, reading, “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.”
Yet the notoriously thin-skinned Trump, our president-elect, is threatening to blackball reporters who write things he doesn’t like, including things that are true. He hasn’t had a press conference since he was elected. He disdains the protective press pool that has, until now, accompanied the president-elect and the president to let Americans know what is going on. For example, on 9/11, the press was there to report to the nation President George W. Bush’s response. When President Ronald Reagan was shot, the press was there to report what happened.
Trump has also vowed to change libel laws. So “when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace ... we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
For half a century, the Supreme Court has held that public figures, such as the president, can’t prove libel against news outlets unless the public figure can prove “actual malice,” knowing what was printed was false. Trump would change that, if he could.
Without a free press, there is no democracy. Thomas Jefferson famously said: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
But Trump loathes the Constitution in other ways, too.
For example, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Trump wants to reintroduce waterboarding of suspected terrorists, thus opening the door for foreign governments to torture American prisoners. He also said he’d kill innocent relatives of suspected terrorists, including children.
That’s not to mention that in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have a constitutional right to protest by burning the flag, as odious as most of us find that act. But Trump tweets: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Scary stuff, folks. Has this man, who next month will swear to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, read it? He says yes but also expressed admiration for Article XII. There are seven.
Does he know we have a constitutional right to free exercise of religion? He proposed that Muslims be banned from this country. Or, in a refinement, Muslims from some countries, to be named later. Early on, until he was rightly ridiculed, he wanted to ban American Muslim soldiers serving their country in war from returning home. His appalling fight with Gold Star parents of an American Muslim who died for his country shows he can’t curb his tongue.
After the terrorist attacks in Paris, Trump said the U.S. government should close mosques. He explained, “We’re going to have no choice. Some really bad things are happening.” Substitute mosques with synagogues or temples or churches, and see what you think.
All this would also violate the 14th Amendment with its Equal Protection Clause, forbidding the government from depriving individuals from “equal protection of the laws.”
Trump’s fights with judges indicate he doesn’t understand the constitutional purpose of an independent judiciary. And he will likely be nominating a number of Supreme Court justices.
His supporters say, “Oh, he doesn’t really mean what he says.” How do we know? We are about to inaugurate a man who tweets out inflammatory statements, and we have no idea which ones he means and which he says for fun on the spur of the moment.
His supporters insist, “Oh, just give him the benefit of the doubt. He is going to be president.”
Well, yes, he is. But that is no reason to roll over and let him say — or do — whatever he wants if it is unconstitutional. He must be held accountable, every day, in every way, for all he says and does.
Ann McFeatters is a columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.