It’s really, really easy to find the exact text of the First Amendment. Anyone with a phone can do it. And yet too many Americans simply don’t understand the free speech clause contained therein. I suppose it’s begrudgingly acceptable for average Americans to misinterpret the notion that constitutional free speech is specifically about preventing the government from passing laws restricting it. But for elected or campaigning politicians to get it so brutally wrong is unforgivable — especially because they might be deliberately getting it wrong, which is possibly worse than simply not knowing.
Such is the case with Donald Trump and, yes, Sarah Palin, who have each made a case against anti-Trump protesters, and in support of the GOP frontrunner’s illegal incitement of violence, by incorrectly citing the First Amendment.
The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2016
And here’s his slow-witted sidekick, Sarah Palin on Monday:
“What we don’t have time for is all that petty punk ass little thuggery stuff that’s been going on with these quote-unquote protesters who are doing nothing but wasting your time,” Palin said at the rally. “And trying to take away your First Amendment rights, your rights to assemble peacefully, and the media being on the thug side.” Palin then directed her eye contact to the cameras. “What the heck are you guys thinking, media? It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
No, “it doesn’t make sense” at all, mainly because Palin and Trump either don’t get it, or they’re intentionally lying about it.
So here we go again. Here’s the full text of the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Tell me, Trump supporters, where in the First Amendment does the Constitution prohibit anti-Trump protesters from disrupting a rally? Of course it doesn’t say any such thing. The First Amendment doesn’t protect anyone from protesters — or counter-protesters, or counter-counter-protesters. Again, it merely protects speech and assembly from being curtailed by the government.
Likewise, while we’re here, the First Amendment doesn’t protect Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin or Donald Trump from outraged Twitter users. It doesn’t protect Bill Maher or Gloria Steinem, either. It doesn’t protect anyone from boycotts or online petitions or hashtivism. Indeed, the First Amendment and, specifically, the free speech and assembly clauses, exist in order to protect both Trump’s supporters and anti-Trump protesters.
The only thing it doesn’t protect, however, is speech that incites violence.
So, no, Trump’s violent rhetoric absolutely is not protected speech per the Supreme Court’s decision in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, as well as Brandenburg v. Ohio.
But this is the game of deception and duplicity being orchestrated by Trump and his disciples. It’s perfectly in keeping with Trump’s lies about unemployment (8.7 million jobs have been created under Obama); Trump’s lies about America “winning” (America’s recovery after the recession has been more robust than other Western nations, and our stock market is booming); Trump’s lies about Obama’s presidency (the president’s approvals are now above 50 percent); and Trump’s lies about overturning the Iran deal or getting Mexico to pay for his wall, both of which are utter gibberish. And now he’s lying about the Constitution, too. If he’s willing to lie about our most cherished founding document, anything is fair game.
But, you know, it’ll take more than liberal columnists to hold Trump accountable for his lies and his illegal inciting of violence. The GOP must accept responsibility for giving us Trump, and the D.C. news media must accept responsibility for refusing to call out the GOP for its reckless elevation of dupes and flamflam artists like Trump and Palin.