At the Values Voter Summit, the year's largest gathering for the religious right movement, former White House aide Sebastian Gorka proclaimed, "The left has no idea how much more damage we can do to them as private citizens."
As striking as the comment was, attendees at the summit saw a related attempt to suppress dissent from Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former chief strategist, who continues to make the case that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) shouldn't criticize the president while U.S. troops are deployed abroad. The Washington Post reported:
"Some U.S. senator in a position of that authority for the first time in the history of our republic has mocked and ridiculed a commander in chief when we have kids in the field," Bannon said of Corker's comments. The remarks were not, in fact, the first time a senator has criticized a president while troops were deployed; it's a routine occurrence during most, if not all, modern presidencies.Bannon then called on Republican senators John Barrasso (Wyo.), Deb Fischer (Neb.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) to condemn Corker's comments or face possible primary challenges.
Bannon's ignorance about history matters, but the more important takeaway is the degree to which people close to Trump -- including, as we discussed last week, one current White House official -- suggest there's something wrong with American dissent.
If you participate in a demonstration critical of the White House, you're dismissed as a "paid protester." If you're an athlete joining a civil rights protest, you're disrespecting the flag. If you mock the president, you're undermining the military.
Over the weekend, the chair of the Republican National Committee went so far as to describe the entire National Football League as "unpatriotic."
To be sure, this reactionary approach to dissent has deep roots in our political history, but it's always been wrong and viewed harshly with the benefit of hindsight. There may be an authoritarian strain in our politics, which sees value in stifling those whose speech is inconvenient to those in power, but that's largely why the First Amendment exists.
Postscript: Under Bannon's model, a Commander in Chief shouldn't be "mocked and ridiculed" when U.S. troops are deployed abroad, but since World War II, we've pretty much always had troops deployed somewhere -- and we've pretty much always had presidents who've faced mockery.
Either Donald Trump should get used to it or he should do fewer things worthy of ridicule.