Trump’s First Amendment Rights

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. – adopted December 15, 1791

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I believe in the First Amendment. It’s one of the cornerstones of our democracy. But without responsibility, we are lost.

“Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth,” Viennese psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl wrote in his book, “Man’s Searching for Meaning.” “Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”

Trump’s January 6 speech is the mirror image of Frankl’s warning. His cruel, indecent rhetoric over the last four years became a straight line to the attack on the Capitol. Everyone knows this. Republicans know this although only a few publicly speak out. Social media knows this. They understand the long-term consequences of providing a platform for divisive, violence-provoking language. That’s why when they witnessed the consequences of Trump’s verbal atrocities, they all said, enough!

Rather than hold this man accountable for igniting the violence the entire country watched unfold, the violence that caused those same Republicans to seek protection in the Capitol basement during the attack, they have disgraced themselves by abdicating their responsibility to the American people.

Two nights ago, I watched, Judgement at Nuremberg. The film centers around the trial of four German judges who, during the Nazi regime, were responsible for sending innocent men and women to their deaths. Now on trial for their lives, their defense relies on a rationale that many have used since: They were just following orders.

After the verdicts are rendered, lead judge, Dan Haywood, in an extraordinary performance by Spencer Tracy, speaks of the consequences for those who cast aside morality. Haywood’s words speak loudly today. They apply to those who have willingly traded honesty and responsibility for loyalty and self-survival. They also apply to those who choose to bury their heads in the sand at the risk of losing their humanity.

Haywood’s final words summarize the importance of responsibility if our country is to survive this toxic virus of populist demagoguery.

“A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient, to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult!”

While Trump’s rage-inducing speech does not rise to the level of Nazi war crimes, if he and those who follow his example, spew similar lies and division are not held accountable by voters, they threaten to take our country down a dark path, not unlike Nazi Germany.

Yes, I believe in the right of freedom of expression, but I don’t believe anyone has the right to misuse that freedom to give hate a forum, bigotry an excuse, and lies the oxygen to grow into a malignancy that threatens our country’s democratic principles.

If we allow that to happen, we are all responsible.

1 comment… add one
  • Gary Lange May 21, 2021, 10:51 am

    You said it Jim: “I don’t believe anyone has the right to misuse that freedom to give hate a forum, bigotry an excuse, and lies…If we allow that to happen, we are all responsible.”

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