US President Donald Trump tries to listen to a question as walks on the South Lawn upon his return to the White House in Washington from Cleveland, Ohio, on...
YURI GRIPAS

Trump says congresswomen ‘can’t get away with’ speech he doesn’t like

Updated

In theory, if Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were as awful as Donald Trump claims, he wouldn’t have to lie about them. If the president were right, and the progressive congresswomen of color had extensive records of ugly rhetorical attacks against the United States, the Republican would go after them by pointing to things they actually said.

It’s just not working out that way. The more Trump targets the members of “the squad,” the more fact-checkers point out that his attacks are rooted in fiction.

Under the circumstances, shouldn’t the truth be good enough? Doesn’t the president’s dishonesty fundamentally undermine the rationale behind his entire offensive?

Complicating matters, Trump added a new twist to his campaign during brief remarks to reporters on Friday afternoon.

“You can’t speak about our country the way those four congressmen – they said, ‘garbage.’ They say things about Israel that’s so bad I’m not even going to repeat them right now.

“They can’t get away with that act.”

First, the “garbage” quote has obviously been wrenched from context and was never directed at the country or its people. Second, no American president has ever been as deeply critical of the United States as Donald J. Trump.

But what I got stuck on was the assertion that the president doesn’t think members of Congress can “get away with” speech he disapproves of.

Trump’s authoritarian instincts have been thoroughly documented in recent years, and rhetoric like this should probably be added to the catalog. When a president starts talking about not letting Americans “get away with” rhetoric he deems unpatriotic, it’s worth pausing to take note.

During the same Q&A on Friday, a reporter reminded Trump, “Mr. President, they have a First Amendment right to say what they want about our country. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. Do you see not agreeing with you as the same thing as hating the country, sir?”

Trump replied, “Yeah, they have First Amendment rights but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about them saying. And when they say bad things about us, we can certainly feel – and again, we have First Amendment rights also – we can certainly feel what and say what we want.”

At face value, this makes a fair amount sense. When some elected officials state their views, opposing elected officials can criticize those views, and vice versa. It’s part of how the political discourse is supposed to work in a free society.

But in context, Trump isn’t doing the public conversation any favors. The president has denounced made-up quotes, urged Americans to “go back” to foreign countries for having the audacity to criticize him, and declared that those whose speech he deems unpatriotic “can’t get away with” their choice of words.

A First Amendment champion he isn’t.