Trump’s free speech screams for First Amendment revision

Trump’s free speech screams for First Amendment revision September 25, 2019

Because most Americans still believe in invisible beings and many struggle to discern real-life fact from fiction in politics, our constitutional right of “free speech” has become more a socially destructive weapon of misinformation and power grabbing than a democratic beacon of clarity.

More than 30 percent of Americans (Trump supporters) seem to be blithely unaware of this. The idea that Americans are discriminating enough to see through flim-flam at a glance is nonsense, as we are seeing, making unrestrained free speech based on that assumption unwise.

Therefore, as I’ve said before but is worth repeating: We should revisit the First Amendment and strongly consider revising its “free speech” clause into a more rational framework to better protect U.S. social tranquility and national security. For example, the low-down crime of flagrant lying to the American people and public deceit by the commander in chief should most definitely be high crimes and misdemeanors. The text of the First Amendment is below:

“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.”

I am repeating the need to put some guard rails on the First Amendment for the same reason the U.S. House of Representatives — Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday — will shortly launch a formal, unqualified impeachment investigation against President Trump: He speaks in bad faith, with serially dire consequences for the nation. As we learned this week, the president clearly tried to extort the leader of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky, by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid already authorized by Congress. In a July phone call, the president reportedly repeatedly pressed the Ukrainian leader, to unnecessarily investigate Joe Biden, his current main Democratic rival in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, and Biden’s son Hunter, regarding the son’s business dealings in Ukraine.

It’s a made-up argument. A red herring.

Zero evidence

No evidence whatsoever exists of either Biden’s involvement in any corruption in that country, where the younger Biden served for five years on the board of Burisma, a natural-gas company. Some time ago the president of that company was investigated for corruption by Ukrainian authorities, a probe that was ultimately suspended, but Biden was never a subject of the inquiry. As vice president under President Obama, Joe Biden was directed by Obama to press the Ukraine leader to remove the nation’s top government prosecutor for failing to robustly confront corruption, but it was in an official U.S. government capacity after the Burisma corruption investigation was already dormant.

In other words, President Trump is using his “free speech” rights to slander a political opponent and his son for purported crimes, for which there is zero evidence, as a means of bolstering Trump’s re-election chances in the 2020 vote. He has abused free-speech rights to groundlessly attack and denigrate real and imagined opponents before and during his presidency, with no apparent concern for veracity, ethics or legality; it appears to be a core life strategy.

In any event, this chicken appears to have come home to roost.

The president complains that the “fake news” press is misrepresenting what happened, except that he himself has confirmed that he discussed the Bidens in his July chat with the Ukrainian President and that he had a week earlier put a hold on hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid, which Zelensky was almost certainly aware of.

How extortion operates

Surely, it is fair to assume that Zelensky is extremely anxious to receive the military aid to combat continued Russian aggression in his independent country, including its recent illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. So anything Trump may ask of him — like investigating a political rival — thus assumes critical implications. This is how extortion operates.

President Trump told news media that he did not “pressure” Zelensky or offer any “quid pro quo” (something for something else) and that the only reason he suspended the military aid was because European states were not paying their fair share in supporting Ukraine’s self-defense.

That’s “laughable,” says Ivo Daalder, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO under President Obama.

“The U.S. has provided military aid, but so have many of the Europeans,” Daalder said in an email. “And NATO has an extensive assistance program that was bolstered significantly after the Russian invasion.”

It’s also laughable that anyone should accept Trump’s stipulation that he had no ill intent in his conversation with Zelensky, and that the Ukrainian president was under no pressure despite knowing that Trump held back a small fortune in military aid and was asking for a favor.

All of this came to light earlier this week when news leaked of an anonymous whistleblower who reported to the intelligence community’s inspector general that he was extremely alarmed by what was said in the Trump-Zelensky call.

Although the law requires whistleblower complaints to the inspector general to be passed on to Congress, the president initially refused, citing executive privilege and other claims.

But Tuesday he changed his mind and said that today he would release a “complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript” of the conversation.

That was after Pelosi affirmed she would launch an impeachment investigation against him.

Trump: impeachment ‘ridiculous’

Abusing his free speech rights, the president Tuesday insisted talk of impeachment was “ridiculous” and a continuation of the “witch hunt” against him, although the Robert Mueller investigation sent a clutch of his top people to jail for official lying and corruption, and uncovered 10 credible instances of obstruction of justice by Trump himself in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 president election.

Implying that the only reason the media and Democrats are glomming onto the infamous Ukrainian chat is self-serving politics, Trump lied:

“I’m leading in the polls. They have no idea how they stop me. The only way they can try is through impeachment.”

Except that virtually every current poll has Biden defeating Trump nationwide and in battleground states, and even some of the Democratic candidates now trailing Biden.

The president is not using his free speech to talk sense to the American people, only to manipulate and rile-up his hard-core base of supporters with lies and innuendo. They apparently don’t read the papers or fully understand what they read, just taking what their dear leader says at face value.

The problem is that there are tens of millions of these indiscriminate, slavish Trumpers out there, a stark illustration of why free speech as we know it isn’t working.

For it to work, American voters need to be adequately informed, able to separate fact from invention in the information they receive, and able to know whether they are thinking with their brains, not their confirmation biases, in order to make rational decisions about candidates and elected officials.

Clearly, some 30-40 percent of the country is unable to do that (including Republican members of Congress), and malign speech is causing our secular republic a whole lot of trouble in this current American meltdown. We are now divided at home and reviled abroad because far too many of us mistake what we want to hear for the God’s truth, of which, of course, there is no such thing.

Unconstrained free speech at the moment is leading us to a seedy suburb of perdition, not the democratic promised land the founders dreamt of. And, besides impeachment or whining, there doesn’t seem to be much we can do about it if unprincipled players are in play.

So why not change the rules? It’s failing anyhow.

Video/YouTube/CBS News

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