Anti-Trump protesters safeguard First Amendment right

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.

Comments
  • BIAS ALERT#1

    December 5, 2016

    THIS IS A BIAS ALERT
    *** PLEASE CAUTION***
    FAKE NEWS AHEAD

    Reply
  • N. Steinle#2

    December 19, 2016

    A genuinely salty critique of your piece:
    The First Amendment guarantees self-expression (including criticism) without having to fear offending other people. For example, there is nothing in the universe that I can possibly SAY (short of passing legislation) to violate your right to believe whatever you want. Furthermore, this means that everybody has the right to be offended, and everybody has the right to ruin their own reputation.

    Has Trump ever said that the protestor’s should not be protected under the 1st Amendment? No, and even if he said it, so what? We voted a buffoon into office, now we have to deal with buffoonery!

    Now, you claim that one form of criticism – the criticism of the protests – is harmful whereas another form of criticism – the protests themselves – is helpful to the First Amendment and democracy, yet you provide NO EVIDENCE for either claim. You state it matter-of-factly as if it is self-evident. It’s perfectly fine to write an opinion without evidence to support it, just do not be surprised when you find yourself holding an empty sac.

    You say specifically that, “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.” Why are they not good for democracy? Care to give reasons? The people criticizing the protests are not passing laws prohibiting protesting Trump nor criminalizing the questioning of Trump’s regime. They are simply criticizing the protests: this always happens. Get over your hurt feelings and appreciate the fact that in a society where people are free to express themselves you are going to be offended and that is YOUR problem only. Just as your silly opinion offends me, and I am expressing my thoughts about it, you’re free to express your thoughts about my opinion, etc, etc, etc…. and both are doing service to the First Amendment. Do you see the parallel here to the bigger picture?

    Most importantly, you uphold a double standard, against the very essence of the 1st Amendment, when you say that protestor’s demonstrations are protecting the 1st Amendment, yet criticisms of those demonstrations are harmful for the 1st Amendment (do you see the irony???). You could not be more incorrect! All criticism that is strictly non-violent maintains the sanctity of the first amendment! The first amendment does not just apply to opinions that YOU agree with, and it is not just protected by opinions that YOU agree with.
    *The people that you claim to be harmful to the First Amendment are actually doing the same thing as those you claim to be protecting the First Amendment: expressing themselves.*
    I’m beginning to wonder if you even know what the First Amendment is…?

    Reply

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