It has become glaringly obvious in 2021 that most Americans have no idea what what the First Amendment of the US Constitution means.
For years now, education and awareness regarding our protected Rights as ensconced in the sacred US constitution have been debated, misunderstood and ultimately abused by those who believe these rights can be blindly weaponized and wielded without consequences. Much like the other Freedoms of expressions situated within the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, alongside Freedom of Religion and Freedom of the Press, the intentional limitations structured by the Framers of the document are frequently misinterpreted by some to leverage as permission to impose upon or even assault others while, ironically, denying them their own right to respond.
In the era of Trump, the First Amendment and the protections it offers has frequently been shouted from the bellowing throats of misguided radicals and antagonists who have likely never bothered reading the document they so confidently use as a personal shield. They believe that the US Constitution affords them the unhindered privilege of extolling hate and lies from the cushion of their soles, impede on the safety of others and that they are exempt from accountability.
This is a lie. This is a lie that many have eagerly harnessed and been emboldened by without instituting the necessity of comprehending the effects of their words or actions… or the consequences that follow.
While Free Speech exists as a sacred right to form ones own ideas and opinions without the burden of consequence, it doe not grant someone the right to intimidate, dominate or strong-arm another individual into agreement. It also doe not grant anyone a free pass to threaten or forcefully enter the domain of another and insist they participate or entertain those ideas or opinions within their space.
A person cannot break into a privately owned home or business and disrupt the occupants dinner because they want to read them a collection of poetry they wrote when they were thirteen. Invading someone’s home is a crime. Taking a person who is sovereign in their domain hostage under the presumption that they MUST hear your teenage musings and your freedom of speech allows this is an utter massacre of First Amendment interpretation.
The same can be said for privately owned businesses. You may not go into your local WalMart and start shouting Psalms from the Bible from the freezer aisle as shoppers are trying to grab their pizza. You will be asked- or forced- to leave, or you will be arrested. Maybe you did this because you love Psalms, or you hate pizza, but the reality remains that you disrupted the intended experience of others in a business that is not your own, on a property that does not belong to you. No one is robbing an individual of their freedom of speech protections by refusing to concede ownership to their own space for them to opine in. One may not usurp the rights of others in order to execute their own. For most of us, common sense would typically dictate our ability to discern our own Rights from the literal wrongs we’ve seen so grossly executed over the first month of 2021.
This has never been more clearly demonstrated than seeing the removal of Donald Trump, the former US President, and the 70,000 other accounts that were banned from social media. To appreciate the gravity of what has happened, one must first fully understand that usage of social media services, such as Twitter and Facebook are not a Right- nowhere in the US Constitution does it say it is a protected right to use Social Media- it is a privilege provided to each of us as an individual customer. We enter into an agreement with each respective company, formally known as a Terms of Service document, when we decide to participate on the platform provided. I understand that no one ever reads the Terms of Service anymore, they tend to quick-scroll to the end and tick the “I agree” box at the bottom. However, that does not absolve one from abiding by it, nor does it protect one from having that privilege revoked if it is broken by the user. To put it simply, these are the rules. They are not negotiable or nullified because someone does not like them, or they find them inconvenient to their agenda.
Donald Trump and indeed thousands of other accounts broke these rules. Their freedom of speech was not stolen, their privilege of using a platform to use it recklessly and dangerously was revoked.
These are the consequences of assuming that Freedom of Speech entitles one to the privilege of a platform. There has never been any doubt whatsoever that people maintain the Right to believe whatever they like, maintain whatever opinions they have, even if others find them disagreeable or offensive. For example, in one’s own home, they can decorate however they please, they may not assume the same authority over their neighbors home. In as much as it remains one individuals freedom to perceive the world they occupy from their position, they may not exert that freedom by taking away someone else’s. Donald Trump and his followers killed 5 people and put countless other innocent lives in danger to flex the muscle of their beliefs, all which have been proven to be based on a series of lies and the subsequent violence ultimately demonstrated was the result of four years of careful grooming via purposeful, malignant rhetoric.
The Founders were meticulous in ensuring that the exercising of one protected Right did not cancel out those that protect another from the negligent use of it.
This is why consequences are necessary when the Constitutional Amendments are wrongfully harnessed in an effort to avoid them. As much as it is the duty of our lawmakers to respect our Rights, it is equally important that we respect them as written and, perhaps most importantly understand what they mean and what they do not. Donald Trump crossed the line of Free Speech when he sought to incite countless others to commit a crime. And they did. Donald Trump perverted our own Constitution when he assumed that his Freedom of Speech meant others had to host his grotesque hostility, threats and intimidation in pursuit of maligning the very same Constitution intended to also protect the rest of us… and our institutions of Democracy.
We have seen many people over recent years complain, wrongfully, that their First Amendment has been compromised or how they are victim of “Cancel Culture”- mostly by conservatives who have spent disproportionate amounts of time occupying social media, grievously attacking anyone who doesn’t align with their own construct of moral, social or political righteousness. We saw racists attack people of color, religious bigots attack LGBT people, gender critics attack Transgender women. The privilege of a platform- and the anonymity it affords, has stirred the darkest impulses of some who lash out in an effort to harm someone or drive them to harming themselves. Abuse, mental torment and expressions of hate are not demonstrations of Free Speech; They are examples of a crime committed by people who have distorted it to fit their insidious intent. The can stand in their living room and scream until they have no voice left with which even to whisper, but they cannot do it in a neutral environment, online or offline. Donald Trump’s own misunderstanding and malfeasance regarding this issue- and a myriad of others- only punctuates his overwhelming incompetence, and how contagious it is been, to tragic effect.
There is no such thing as “Cancel Culture” and we must stop allowing people to use it as an excuse to self-victimize when they are, in reality, just being held accountable for their misdeeds. Everyone wants a world stage until they become so comfortable on it they lose their ability to use common sense or simple restraint in their messaging, yet feel entitled to the audience and their unwavering support. Those who reserve the right to react are then accused of engaging in “Cancelling” them… which is a way of gaslighting people into feeling sympathy or guilt rather than justifiably repudiating the actions or behaviors of the reprehensible. These are the Trumps of the world- the individuals whose complete self adulation overwhelms their ability to conceive of any personal wrongdoing. When the reaction of the watching world is not favorable, they become angry instead of apologetic. When they seek to cause damage or distrust, to malign or defame, suddenly they become an expert in the First Amendment or a pained victim of a cruel cancel culture.
We have watched the genuine ordinances of the Constitution be misrepresented and weaponized for many years, but none more so than during the single term of Donald Trump, as he misrepresented and simultaneously turned up his nose at its meaning. He elevated the already protected Freedom of Religion and thrust millions of people beneath the weight of it. He created laws that served the Christian religion, and then more laws that demonized other religions- going so far as to ban travel from countries where Islam is predominantly observed. He instituted orders that allowed health care providers to openly discriminate against ailing lesbians, gays, and transgender patients by founding the Health and Human Services division of Religious Freedom and Moral Conscience while aggressively seeking to revoke healthcare access to the very same community during a global pandemic. He blatantly disregarded the Separation of church and State in order to bring harm upon an already disenfranchised community. He abandoned vital parts of the First Amendment, specifically, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..” and he did this while complaining his First Amendment Rights were being tread upon.
However, with respect to industry, none were as damaged by his disregard for the Constitution and the First Amendment as the Press, who he amassed a war against, betraying the authors of history in order satisfy his own vanity. Leveraging his influence and the Nation’s highest office, he brought credible news agencies into disrepute with his stream of lies- while deeming them purveyors of “Fake News-” a term often parroted by his loyalists to dismiss anyone who criticized his leadership. He attacked journalists with unsettling insults and racially charged remarks, and he encouraged his base to join him in these relentless campaigns to discredit reporting he did not like. He attempted to ban news anchors from attending his press conferences- and he did this while using other news outlets that had pledged their loyalty to him as vehicles for creating his own fictitious stories. At once he attempted to destroy the integrity of the honest press, while abusing the dishonest press to elevate himself by lying to the public. All of this while claiming his Freedom of Speech was being disrupted.
Perhaps, Donald Trump, despite being President, was never one to deliver lectures to anyone else on the value or meaning of our Constitutional Rights.
Never before, nor so audaciously and publicly, has a leader used the Constitution in favor of himself, to dismantle the Constitution where it applied to everyone else. Although it may have been in the final days of his term, those who took action to enforce it, finally, as it was written, have won.
Free Speech remains a cornerstone of our lives, but we have learned in the era of Donald Trump and the rise of Trumpism that it does not imply impunity. Many people died to preserve the Rights we enjoy, and it is our duty to respect them rather than frivolously use it as a mock defense for violent and inhumane words peddled in public spaces. For once, and only once since, we saw Donald Trump genuinely experience accountability for his extremism and the impact of it on a greater society.
The entirety of the US Government, thus far, has failed to do the same. His first impeachment had been wrought with politics as Republican Senators fashioned themselves into a wall of acolytes around him, protecting him, and he paid no price, but was, in fact, empowered to pursue the deadly trajectory that lead to the January 6th siege on Capitol Hill. His second impeachment has equated no real consequences and likely won’t in the future. The world has watched as a man, untethered from reality, brought America to the brink of ruin, and our leaders did nothing to stop it.
At least Twitter finally found their conscience- their moral duty to act rather than enable.
Consequences must be indelibly entwined with Free Speech, so that every wordsmith might find enough consideration for the rule of law to educate themselves- on behalf of themselves. Ignorance is not an excuse for lawlessness. Power does not provide immunity from a response or a cold rebuke. We have learned a lesson by what fate we have met as a Nation in allowing the people of it to misconstrue and contort the meanings of our most precious social infrastructure- those who think Free Speech comes at no cost will provide no mercy for those who find themselves in their crosshairs.