Home Opinion Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand the First Amendment

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand the First Amendment

by Daniel Falkenheim
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a rally in Arizona.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump misunderstands the First Amendment.

Donald Trump frequently calls the media “dishonest,” “disgusting” and “corrupt” at his rallies.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore (Flickr)

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump lives, thrives and dies by the media. The media machine has tubes hooked in every orifice of Trump’s body, and Trump gladly mainlines all of the attention and coverage they provide. Trump’s bravado and braggadocio is fueled by his innate desire to be seen and talked about.

Now, after two consecutive weeks of unrelenting criticism, Trump is irritated. His drug of choice – attention – has become toxic. The media is pumping negative stories about Trump’s ill-advised remarks, and Trump can no longer take comfort in stories about his downtrodden opponents and rising poll numbers.

Trump is not taking this turn of events lightly. Trump, in a flurry of tweets on Sunday, declared he is now fighting the press, in addition to battling Hillary Clinton. He has lashed out and threatened to revoke The New York Times’ press credentials. Trump is becoming an enemy of the First Amendment.

Trump can speak for himself:

Trump doesn’t see the freedom of the press as a sacred right that deserves the utmost protection. Rather, Trump wields the First Amendment as a tool to silence his detractors. He doesn’t understand that the First Amendment’s purpose is to protect, not suppress free speech.

Trump illustrated his ignorance when threatened to “open up” the libel laws to sue news organizations. Here’s a brief lesson, which Trump apparently needs: Public figures, like himself, need to prove that a news organization intended actual malice and showed a blatant disregard for the truth in a particular statement. A negative New York Times’ article doesn’t qualify as libel.

This is much to Trump’s dismay, I’m sure.

Unlike his claims to build a wall and “Make America Great Again,” Trump has already followed through with his anti-First Amendment agenda and has given specifics on how he’ll accomplish it. Trump has revoked the press credentials of The Washington Post, Politico, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and The Des Moines Register.

Trump sued The Chicago Tribune because its architecture critic mocked Trump’s proposed Manhattan building plan. Once again, Trump took to the courts to sue journalist Timothy O’Brien because O’Brien’s book doubted Trump’s actual wealth. Both lawsuits were dismissed, and rightly so.

Lawsuits and libel laws aside, Trump’s vehement disdain for the press runs rampant at his rallies. Trump frequently says the press is “disgusting,” “dishonest” and “corrupt,” and his supporters have chanted “lock them up!” in reference to the media.

That’s not how democracy works; that is the making of fascism. Autocratic rulers like Raul Castro and Vladimir Putin have jailed political dissidents, crushed political opposition and destroyed free speech. Trump’s First Amendment rationale would make America less free, and it makes him ideological buddies with the likes of Benito Mussolini.

The unavoidable irony is that Trump loves to paint himself as the antichrist to political correctness. Yet, Trump cannot receive one ounce of criticism without getting upset. He takes every negative comment as an existential danger to his being. In his mind, every attack must be countered and every negative word must be quashed.

That’s the opposite of political correctness. That’s the personality of a megalomaniac who has an unending desire for everyone to bow at his feet and exalt his greatness. That is not, and should not, be the character of the next President of the United States.

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