Right-wing politicians’ harsh criticism of demonstrators harmful for maintenance of democracy, free speech in United States

8 months ago
Ian Seamans
Commentary

The First Amendment is one of our most important rights as Americans. Its protection of our right to protest also safeguards democracy itself, and yet many are criticizing anti-Trump protesters.

Since the election, Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Ted Cruz, Kellyanne Conway and others have criticized and characterized anti-Trump supporters as whiners, crybabies and sore losers. On Nov. 29, Trump tweeted that burning the American flag should have consequences such as loss of citizenship or jail time.

On a basic level, these statements make sense. If someone lost a game to you and then continued to pester you about it days afterwards, you would be reasonably annoyed. And if you saw an American flag being burned, you might feel a good bit of indignation.

Although these emotions are understandable, they’re not good for democracy. When we think of democracy, we usually think of near-universal franchise, but protest is also a key avenue by which citizens can influence public policy. Protesting is just as much a civic activity as voting or attending city council meetings. Politicians can gage the populace’s willingness for certain policies based off protests — and anti-Trump protests are no different.

These protesters are largely not disputing the results of the election. They are instead peacefully stating their disagreement with a number of Trump’s policies in a public forum. I agree with Trump’s Nov. 11 tweet that those protesters are passionate about this country, but I disagree with his denigration of them as professional protesters that were incited by the media to treat him unfairly, which he wrote on Nov. 10.

I’m troubled by the fact that Trump doesn’t seem to think unpopular speech is covered by the First Amendment. The reason why speech must be protected is for cases of disliked speech, not speech with which everyone agrees. Trump must stop this type of behavior, as he is not only the President-elect but also a leader whose opinion is often repeated by his supporters.

In this climate of heightened political emotions, the First Amendment is more important than ever. Our country relies on a free and open marketplace of ideas; A place where anyone can express themselves no matter how distasteful, disliked or offensive their speech is, even if it’s aimed at Trump.

I hope at least Trump will become more respectful of the First Amendment and those that exercise it, and at most I hope that he and his team start considering the opinions of those who did not support him, including the protesters.