by Stacia Friedman
When U.C. Berkeley students protested a campus visit by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, President Trump threatened to cut the university’s federal funding, not because of any actions taken by the peaceful students, but because of violent demonstrations by outside agitators described as “anarchists.” The fact that Trump’s threat was issued via Twitter made it no less chilling. Is this how all student protests will be silenced across the nation, by defunding state colleges?
Perhaps I am catastrophizing, but, if left unchecked, I see the Trump administration, with the former publisher of Breitbart at the helm, turning the First Amendment into a political tool with which to suppress protest and to incite violent religious and ethnic hatred. Whether he admits to knowing David Duke or not, Trump just removed the Klan from the Terrorist List, thereby legitimizing them and all but invited them into our campuses and communities.
If Trump champions free speech by the Klan and the alt-right, why is he bludgeoning free speech by the 1,000 State Department employees who voiced their concerns about the Muslim ban? Why was he so quick to silence Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates for doing her job? Why did Bannon tell the media to “shut up”?
More to the point, how long will it take for this administration’s self-serving interpretation of the First Amendment to escalate into full-blown martial law with the National Guard reenacting the Kent State Massacre?
Call me an alarmist, but I have never been so fearful for my country. I am told there are “checks and balances” to prevent our democracy from a demagogue or madman. But when I heard that Trump had invited two Supreme Court candidates to come to the White House, all I can say is that I was relieved he didn’t hand Judge Gorsuch a red rose. (Thank God, the other candidate had enough self-respect to stay home.)
There is a theory quickly spreading on social media which warns that all of the executive orders issued during the administration’s first week were a “head fake.” Meaning, they were created to distract us from the truly dangerous activities taking place out of public view. This could include covert operations in Iran, Iraq or Syria to make good on another campaign promise – taking the oil fields. Sure, it’s illegal. But the law doesn’t seem to apply to Trump.
If not stealing oil fields, the Trump-Bannon regime could be cozying up to Russia and forming secret trade and military alliances of which Ukraine will be collateral damage. Or who knows? The man who said,“We’ve got ‘em, why not use ‘em?” might decide to nuke Iran. Given his total ignorance of basic science (i.e. “Climate change is a hoax created by China, folks.”) Trump might not know that a nuclear attack anywhere will result in worldwide radioactive fallout for years.
Which brings me to my only hope. While I applaud the millions who marched across the country and around the world on Jan. 21, I believe the only way we liberals will prevent our Constitution from going up in flames and our country from going down the toilet is to partner with Republicans who share our concerns. Earlier this week, I called the office of State Rep. Charlie Dent (R) to thank him for voicing opposition to the Muslim Ban. He is but one of dozens of Republican Congressmen and Senators who are not afraid to stand up to Trump and his cronies. As months (and our freedoms) unravel, I expect many other Republican politicians with an eye on 2018 elections to join the voices of dissent. These are the people with whom we liberals need to collaborate regarding the dangers Trump presents. Even if we differ regarding other issues.
This is a unique and uncertain time in American history for which we will be judged for centuries to come. We need to come out of our social media echo chambers and speak with our neighbors, face to face, to find the common humanity that is in all of us.
Stacia Friedman is a regular contributor to the Local.