By Reginald Johnson
Does Donald Trump have freedom of speech like all other Americans?
Yes, unfortunately he does.
Freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our system, stemming from the very first amendment to the Constitution, which bars Congress from passing any law which would abridge that right.
In the U.S., you can pretty much say or write anything, unless you’re advocating something illegal.
This separates our system from a lot of other places, where if you criticize the government or some high official too much, you could wind up in jail or worse.
It’s very important to protect the first amendment. Without it, our constitutional system is shot.
That’s why it’s a bit concerning that some protesters have gotten it into their heads that the best way to combat Trump and his offensive views is by showing up at his rallies and either shouting him down or interrupting him so many times that he can’t effectively communicate.
The New York Times reported that at a recent event in New Orleans, Trump’s speech was interrupted repeatedly. The Times wrote “an almost continual stream of protesters interrupted a Trump event, sometimes dropping to the ground to make guards drag them out, or heckling back at Mr. Trump’s supporters with their own crude language and gestures.”
Other campaign events by Trump have also been interrupted on multiple occasions.
Some protesters said after the aborted Trump rally in Chicago that they had successfully “shut down” Trump’s appearance, set for an arena at the University of Illinois. The rally had drawn hundreds of protesters inside the arena, and the Trump campaign cancelled the event just after the candidate was scheduled to speak. The event descended into chaos after the announcement, with Trump supporters and protesters yelling at each other and exchanging punches.
“Shutting down” free speech is not a good thing, no matter what you think of the person doing the speaking.
Anyone running for office has a right to make their case. People who don’t like their views don’t have the right to prevent that.
Let me say right here I do not like Donald Trump. He's shown himself to be bigoted, denigrating Mexican and Muslim immigrants and hesitating at one point to repudiate KKK leader David Duke. Except for a few remarks he’s made about the need to avoid overseas interventions and his opposition to trade treaties (not expressed very coherently), I have no use for this man.
He’s also made irresponsible remarks about protesters, saying he wouldn’t care if they got punched out or remarking that “in the old days” they’d take demonstrators “out on a stretcher.”
He also said he would pay the legal fees for anyone who beat up a protester who was “getting ready to throw a tomato.”
These inflammatory remarks may well have fueled some incidents of violence, notably the sucker-punching of a demonstrator by a Trump supporter as the protester was being removed from a rally. Trump said last weekend that he didn’t want to see any violence at his events, but he refused to criticize the man who threw the punch.
For his views and his incendiary remarks, Trump deserves to be condemned. The question is where and when.
If a candidate from any party has obtained a hall or space to hold a campaign rally and make his or her pitch on why they should be elected, that person and his supporters should not be subjected to protests in the same area.
However, it is entirely appropriate to hold demonstrations or protests outside the hall or space. Opponents of Trump should hold mass demonstrations outside the venues where Trump is going to speak. Protest rallies with hundreds or thousands of people will get press attention. Critics can set up soft picket lines outside Trump events, carry placards, hand out leaflets and try to buttonhole event-goers and tell them why Trump is not a good candidate.
Opponents can also take out ads in the paper, write letters, and write op-eds criticizing Trump.
There’s plenty of ways to show opposition to candidates besides engaging in blocking tactics at campaign rallies.
Should anti-Trump protesters continue their efforts at interrupting speeches, it is likely that opponents of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders will decide to return the favor and show up at rallies for those candidates and disrupt their speeches. Campaign rallies could degenerate into circuses, which is not fair to either to the candidates trying to make their case or the people who came to hear what they have to say.