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Who Will Defend Free Speech Against Trump’s Bullying?


POST-ELECTION DISORIENTATION-America is in a muddle and our President-elect is the center of our national confusion. If you think that the general public is disoriented by “Trumpism,” that’s nothing compared to the panic within both the Democrat and Republican parties and our allies and enemies worldwide. The real cause of apprehension is not Trump’s highly questionable economic policies and strange affection for foreign dictators (except for Fidel Castro.) A legitimate concern is Trump’s mental stability or lack thereof. 

Over months of campaigning, Donald Trump exhibited some bizarre behavior, particularly with his late night tweets. The content of his tweets and other statements were beyond the pale. However, these eccentricities were excused by his background as a reality TV star and a lack of any political experience. 

Trump’s Post-Election Behavior 

Trump’s behavior after the November election, however, has set off alarm bells. The inability of a person to conform his behavior to the norms of society suggests that he could be mentally unstable. In all societies, there are cultural expectations. What is appropriate for a child is not permitted for an adult. A toddler who runs outside naked provokes giggles, but a 35-year old naked man walking around a department store will be arrested. In the words of William Shakespeare: 

   All the world’s a stage,

   And all the men and women merely players:

   They have their exits, and their entrances;

   And one man in his time plays many parts.

   [As You like it, Act II, Scene VII] 

Because the social role of Leader of the Free World is defined by the expectations of hundreds of millions of people, Trump’s inability to control his behavior is noticable. 

Perhaps, his first serious post-election mis-tweet came when he told the cast of Hamilton to “apologize” for asking Vice-President Pence make sure that the new administration represented all Americans. As a people, we have no more basic liberty than Free Political Speech. Yet Trump demanded an apology for free speech. He called the Hamilton cast’s message “harassment.” 

There is one aspect of Trump’s Hamilton tweets which people have not heeded: the cast was not speaking to Trump, but to Vice-President Pence. Nonetheless, Trump launched his vituperative tweets, possibly transgressing the respect he owed the Vice President-Elect’s ability to speak for himself. When Pence did have an opportunity to comment, he affirmed the American passion for free speech, saying that he told his family that the boos and cheers they heard when entering the theater were the “sound of freedom.” 

Loss of Citizenship for Displeasing President-Elect Trump 

On November 28, 2016, out of nowhere, Trump tweeted that anyone who burns the American flag should lose his US citizenship. Justice Jackson in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, (1943) 319 U.S. 624 stated America’s position on obnoxious speech: 

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” 

Even arch-conservative Justice Scalia agreed with Liberal Justice Brennan in 1989 when both endorsed Justice Jackson’s opinion that the American Constitution protects obnoxious speech in Texas v Johnson, (1989) 491 U.S. 397. It’s vital for us to recognize that Americans across the political spectrum are unanimous on the sanctity of obnoxious speech. Trump’s repudiation of that shows that he either does not comprehend American values or he does not feel bound to behave as an American. 

His Actions Alarm Even Sarah Palin 

Quite recently, we’ve seen Trump intervene with the decision of Carrier to move jobs to Mexico. Independent of whether Carrier should move jobs to Mexico is Trump’s double disregard for his actual role as the President-Elect who is not yet the President. Furthermore, Presidents should not operate by making threats to private businesses or obtaining special benefits for them. The movement of jobs to foreign countries has complex causes; it requires Americans to act as a group through their elected representatives to decide what should be done. 

The Trashing of International Protocol 

The most egregious departure from international norms came with Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Since 1979, the United States has followed a consistent and complicated policy with respect to Mainland China and Taiwan. Whether that policy should be altered is open to debate, but Trump’s gross violation of diplomatic protocol is beyond disturbing. President-Elect Trump has not even selected his Secretary of State. Thus, we know that his rash deviation from accepted world-wide procedure did not happen after discussing its ramifications with his nominee for Secretary of State. Even Vice-President-elect Pence’s comments on the Sunday, December 4, talk shows indicate that this change in China policy caught him by surprise. 

The Personal Punitive Nature of Donald Trump 

There is another aspect of Trump’s behavior that has thrown all of Washington into disarray. He seems to believe that people who disagree with him should be punished. Women who receive abortions should be thrown in jail. Companies whose business decisions he dislikes should be subject to a 35% tariff (as if this were 1650, the height of Mercantilism.) Free speech merits loss of citizenship.

This punitive approach against people who offend him is the most dangerous aspect of Trump’s personality. People we often lump under the labels of anti-social, psychopathic and sociopathic share these traits: an inability to abide by deeply held social norms and the tendency to attack people who displease them. 

As is customary when faced with a bully’s blatant disregard for fundamental values, no one has the nerve to stand up and denounce Trump’s psychopathic behavior. Rather, it seems that most, with the possible exception of David Frum, try to accommodate it. If you want to see how dictators take over a country, just turn on your TV set.


(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney. He can be reached at: [email protected]. Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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