People line up for taxi across the street from the New York Times head office in New York, Feb. 7, 2013. 
Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

First Amendment faces unusual threats following Trump’s win

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t issue a statement responding to the election results right away. He took a few days to think about it, letting his frustrations simmer over time.

And when Reid did speak, he didn’t hold back, calling Donald Trump “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.” The retiring Nevada Democrat added, “Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans.”

Asked about Reid’s statement on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, said the senator “should be very careful about characterizing somebody in a legal sense.”

Conway hedged soon after on the precise nature of the threat, but it certainly seemed as if a leading member of the president-elect’s team was threatening possible legal action against a senator because the lawmaker publicly criticized Trump. In case it’s not obvious, these kinds of intimidation tactics aren’t normal in modern American life – national leaders are not supposed to try to silence detractors with threats of litigation.

It was around this time that Trump himself decided to interrupt his busy transition schedule to complain via Twitter about the New York Times.
“Wow, the @nytimes is losing thousands of subscribers because of their very poor and highly inaccurate coverage of the ‘Trump phenomena.’”
And then again.
“The @nytimes sent a letter to their subscribers apologizing for their BAD coverage of me. I wonder if it will change - doubt it?”
And then again.
“The @nytimes states today that DJT believes ‘more countries should acquire nuclear weapons.’ How dishonest are they. I never said this!”
Remember, all of this came just five days after Trump shocked the world by actually winning the American presidency.

There are, of course, multiple problems with antics like these. First, there’s the simple matter of Trump’s inability to focus on what matters: the president-elect is supposed to be preparing to take office, not picking petty fights with newspapers.

Second, there’s just no precedent for mini-tantrums like these. Americans have never seen a national leader, preparing to lead the free world, whine about a news outlet for no particular reason, literally less than a week after Election Day.

Third, Trump’s complaints happen to be wrong. To the extent that reality still has any meaning whatsoever in politics, the New York Times is not losing thousands of subscribers; it did not send an apologetic letter to subscribers; and Trump did endorse broader nuclear proliferation in countries like Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. In other words, Trump isn’t just whining; he’s also lying.

But even putting aside these details, consider Trump’s ridiculous tweets in the broader context. One of the president-elect’s top aides raised the prospect of legal action against a critical senator; the president-elect himself is dishonestly attacking one of the nation’s top news outlets; Trump’s team is already taking new steps to limit press access; and the incoming Republican administration has taken aim at protesters voicing dissent in the wake of last week’s elections.

If this is what we’re seeing in the first week – two months before Trump officially takes power – the First Amendment and its proponents are in for a very rough ride.




Donald Trump

First Amendment faces unusual threats following Trump's win