U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in Derry, N.H., Aug. 19, 2015. 
Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Trump desperately needs a First Amendment refresher course

At the Democratic National Convention, Khizr Khan delivered striking remarks that addressed Donald Trump directly. “Let me ask you,” Khan said. “Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

Alas, Trump didn’t take him up on the offer. As the Washington Post noted this morning:
President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened loss of citizenship or jail for those who burn the American flag, saying such protests – which the Supreme Court has declared to be free speech – should carry “consequences.”

Trump offered his thoughts in an early-morning post on Twitter, saying, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag.”
In case you were wondering – as I was – why in the world Trump took a sudden interest in this obscure issue, which faded from the discourse many years ago, Fox News apparently aired an early-morning segment on some student protesters burning a flag. It’s likely the president-elect saw this and decided to share his thoughts on the matter.

There’s probably no real point in delving into an extended discussion of the merits of this argument. The Supreme Court has already ruled that flag burning is protected political speech, and efforts to amend the Constitution have failed more than once, effectively ending the debate.

But Trump’s latest missive nevertheless seemed noteworthy for reasons that may not be entirely obvious at first blush.

For example, Trump didn’t just denounce flag-burning; the president-elect endorsed “consequences” for these protesters: “perhaps loss of citizenship or [a] year in jail.”

In other words, as far as Trump is concerned, if the president-elect disagrees with your constitutionally protected political speech, he envisions a system in which you may face imprisonment or the loss of your American citizenship.

Perhaps Trump and his team can elaborate and explain what other kinds of legal speech warrant similar kinds of “consequences.”

I realize, of course, that Trump doesn’t think these things through. He has random thoughts about issues he’s never considered in any real detail, and because the president-elect has no discipline or self-restraint, he likes to offer knee-jerk ideas via Twitter that Trump finds compelling.

But these circumstances don’t negate the fact that Trump appears to have a reflexive hostility towards the First Amendment. The Republican thinks public protests in response to his election are “very unfair.” He thinks Broadway theaters should be “safe spaces” where his administration doesn’t face criticism. He sees combat against the free press as a staple of his political identity.

He casually mentions stripping political protesters of their citizenship rights as a remedy to legal speech Trump doesn’t like.

Is it too much to ask that someone give the president-elect a refresher course on the meaning of the First Amendment? Preferably before Trump’s inauguration?

Donald Trump and Protest

Trump desperately needs a First Amendment refresher course