Americans Have a Right to Protest, But Trump Has a Right to Speak

Here is the sticky – even messy – part of the First Amendment right of free speech. We all have it. Realistically speaking, we don’t always like the other guy having it, a feeling much more pronounced on the right than on the left side of the political spectrum.

But this all-encompassing right is what separates us from other democracies: hate speech is not illegal here.

Trump protesters in Chicago were openly happy that Trump didn’t speak, chanting “We stopped Trump.” And probably many others who weren’t there sympathize with what seems to have been a feeling of euphoria that the bully had finally been silenced, even though all the evidence points to Trump stopping himself from being able to speak.

But this is America. And nobody should be silenced. Not the protesters, and not, if we take the First Amendment seriously, even Trump. This isn’t opinion. This is 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.”

Trump has made himself a lightning rod. He is a bully after all. He is – in no particular order – hateful, bigoted, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-Latino, anti-black, anti-socialist, anti-journalist, anti-free speech, and the list goes on and on. He says he wants to punch those who disagree with him in the face. If anyone protests – even if they don’t speak – he throws them out. He condones violence against them.

In a word, Trump doesn’t recognize others’ First Amendments rights. Why should we recognize his? Well, because First Amendment. It applies to all or to none. There is no need to become Trump to stop Trump. It could be argued in fact that the best way to stop is by being the antithesis of all his worst qualities.

Stop Trump by being a good person, by being better than Trump. Those who have condemned Trump and his appeal to violence might be seen as examples of ‘good people.’ They are, after all, calling out bad behavior. At the same time, though Trump was widely attacked this weekend on TV or inciting violence, he was not called out for his racism.

Isn’t racism behind much of his support of violence? Yes, it is. It is at least one of the underlying causes. His rallies are full of white supremacists, after all, willing to give Trump the Hitler salute and an oath of personal loyalty as his due.

Yet in a CNN op-ed, First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza takes Trump critics to task, writing,

What is missing from all these statements? A blanket condemnation of violence to suppress speech. Even the most ardent anti-Trump among us should lament that a political speech was canceled due to fears of violence. I would have preferred to hear the other candidates condemn that — even if Trump would never have done so himself.

He has a point. Even if Trump carefully engineered events to come to this point just so he could play the victim, nobody should be silence under threat of violence, neither Trump, those opposed to him, or anyone else anywhere along the political spectrum. The most effective – and legal – means of silencing Trump is to speak at the polls.

Of course, Republicans are doing their level best to ensure that many, especially minorities, do not have the opportunity to speak at the polls. Those with left-wing views are under-represented on weekend news shows. The mainstream media leans heavily right and Fox News is almost tipping the boat over.

It might seem the dispossessed on the left lack a viable alternative to protests as a means of being heard. There is irony in the fact that this is exactly how Trump’s supporters see themselves, though white and therefore privileged, that they are somehow victims of an unfair economic system.

That they’re supporting the party that created and sustains that system is a point not lost on Democrats or neutral observers. But we cannot use facts to demonstrate the reality to them because they have eschewed facts, and the joke itself has become fact, that reality has a left-wing bias.

The solution, if only they could see it, is not support of Trump, but the opening of eyes to our shared reality. Turn off Fox News and tune in.

Trump is going to have his opinion. You and I oppose it and have a right to speak up in protest, to offer up not only arguments against Trump’s policy positions, such as they can be found to exist, but condemnation of his embrace of racism and violence to push his agenda.

The hard part is at the same time swallowing Trump’s right to express his gutter views. The First Amendment guarantees him that right, whether we like it or not.

You can say, we can’t be sure to what extent Trump has actually been prevented from speaking. He lied about it in Chicago and he lied about it again in Kansas City, and you’d be right.

That’s not the point, however. The point is, there were those opposed to him who cheered the idea that it had been their victory and not Trump’s carefully calculated political manipulation that kept him from speaking.

And that’s wrong.

The left should celebrate its victories over Trump, but preventing him from speaking – the extent that has happened – is not one of them.