Which 3 Freedoms Will the Next President Restrict or Ban?
The list stops at three for the sake of brevity, but you can assume that Clinton and Trump both have more than enough doom to spare for other liberties.
Going into today's presidential vote, horrifying Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton remains a hair ahead of repulsive Republican contender Donald Trump, though the momentum appears to be on his side in the polls. Americans seem understandably torn after repeated media assurances that this is less of a normal democratic process than an opportunity to choose the form of the destructor—and no fair cheating by "wasting" your vote on Gary Johnson or any other non-evil option. Pick A or B, corrupt or crazy, if you want to be one of the cool kids.
There's little time left to prepare for the aftermath of this election—hopefully, you've already hedged your investments and put aside materials for converting the family SUV to a technical (keep in mind that gun oil plays havoc with upholstery). So let's take a look at what we can expect depending on which vindictive control freak representing the major political parties ultimately wins the White House. What are a few of the important freedoms Clinton or Trump might move to restrict or outright ban in the aftermath of a victory?
If Clinton wins…
Free Speech. There's no doubt that terrorism is a major concern for many people around the world, and Hillary Clinton thinks she's found an important weapon in fighting radicalization: making people shut up.
"You're going to hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech, et cetera," she snarked during a speech at the Brookings Institution. "But if we truly are in a war against terrorism and we are truly looking for ways to shut off their funding, shut off the flow of foreign fighters, then we've got to shut off their means of communicating."
The Democratic candidate wants to conscript social media companies into her crusade against speech she dislikes, too.
"We're going to need help from Facebook and from YouTube and from Twitter," she told ABC's This Week. "They cannot permit the recruitment and the actual direction of attacks or the celebration of violence by the sophisticated Internet user. They're going to have to help us take down these announcements and these appeals."
Not that Clinton's hostility to speech begins and ends at the really radical stuff—she doesn't like any sort of criticism targeted at professional politicians and their pet causes. Earlier this year, Reason's Damon Root referred to "Hillary Clinton's well-known view that federal authorities should be able to prevent her political opponents from distributing a documentary film that's critical of her in the days before a federal election." Lots of political figures dislike the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision affirming Americans' right to create incorporated organizations so they can pool resources to speak out about candidates and issues. But only one person—Hillary Clinton herself—was the subject of the documentary at the heart of that case.
She's still upset.
"In my first 30 days as president," she announced in July, "I will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and give the American people, all of us, the chance to reclaim our democracy."
That reclamation would come, Clinton promises, by altering the Constitution to limit the protections of the First Amendment, leaving speech less free for everybody—all because some people criticized her in a film in 2008.
Guns. We already knew from Hillary Clinton's frequent pronouncements that she's not keen on leaving the means of self-defense in private hands. What we didn't realize was that the former Secretary of State is also hostile to even the defense of public officials like herself.
"Clinton's treatment of DS agents on her protective detail was so contemptuous that many of them sought reassignment or employment elsewhere," a former Bureau of Diplomatic Security agent told the FBI. "[B]y the end of Clinton's tenure, it was staffed largely with new agents because it was difficult to find senior agents willing to work for her."
Now, that's dedication to walking through life unsheltered from risk. And to make sure the rest of us at least as much risk (she still has a disaffected agent or two watching her back, after all), "Hillary will take administrative action" on restrictions, as her campaign website boasted before that autocratic turn of phrase was carefully scrubbed. To clarify, the Washington Post points out that President Clinton would be "relying on the executive power of the presidency to further gun restrictions that would have little chance of becoming law."
Specifically, Hillary Clinton wants to require background checks even for kitchen counter sales of guns between friends and neighbors. That's a requirement that's guaranteed to be unenforceable—"people are just ignoring this law," Colorado Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) said of a similar measure adopted in his state. But it would set the grounds for increased confrontations between police and the public.
Hillary Clinton also claims that the gun industry is "wholly protected from any kind of liability"—a claim even Politifact rates as "False." Her intended policy would strip gun makers of protections against politically motivated lawsuits that had been devised in the '90s as a means of limiting the availability of guns to American civilians by driving manufacturers out of business.
Clinton has also spoken out against "assault weapons" without defining the term beyond falsely implying that Americans have easy access to machine guns.
"Australia is a good example" Clinton told an audience last year. "The Australian government, as part of trying to clamp down on the availability of automatic weapons, offered a good price for buying hundreds of thousands of guns. Then, they basically clamped down, going forward."
Australians widely defied that confiscation, it should be noted, and cooked up a massive black market in guns. Their government has scheduled yet another amnesty to get citizens to surrender weapons that officially don't exist after that first amnesty.
Privacy and encryption. For somebody who has an awful lot to hide from the public—former Obama staffer and fellow Democrat David Axelrod charges her with "an unhealthy penchant for privacy"–Hillary Clinton really doesn't like it when the public returns the favor and keeps secrets from her. When federal security officials issued one of their periodic public complaints that encrypted communications make it hard for them to snoop on people and catch bad guys, she took their side.
"We need Silicon Valley not to view government as its adversary," Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "We need our best minds in the private sector to work with our best minds in the public sector to develop solutions that will both keep us safe and protect our privacy."
When Apple's Tim Cook slapped back, warning that weakening privacy protections to help the government would be a gift to hackers and foreign spies, Clinton doubled down.
"It doesn't do anybody any good if terrorists can move toward encrypted communication that no law enforcement agency can break into before or after," Clinton told a debate audience. "I just think there's got to be a way, and I would hope that our tech companies would work with government to figure that out." Specifically, she called for a "Manhattan-like project" to give government access to people's communications.
Clinton, Techdirt noted, "used the opportunity to align herself with the idiotic side of the encryption debate."
Encryption has become such a hot button issue in recent years largely because of Edward Snowden's revelations about NSA snooping on the American public and the world at large. Hillary Clinton is more than a little pissed that the whistleblower gave us all a heads-up about officially sanctioned invasions of our privacy. Asked if Snowden should be able to return to the United States from overseas exile without facing legal penalties, she answered, "I don't think he should be brought home without facing the music."
Of course not. After all, she's a huge booster of the surveillance state and favors an "intelligence surge" to monitor online activities.
If Trump wins…
Free speech. No more than his Democratic rival is Donald Trump a fan of letting people speak their minds unimpeded. And like her, he uses fear of terrorism as a starting point.
"We're losing a lot of people because of the internet," Trump told attendees at a campaign rally. "We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what's happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways. Somebody will say, 'Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.' These are foolish people."
Sometimes you have to wonder what it is that sets Trump and Clinton against each other—they seem to agree on so much.
But not on everything.
While Trump dislikes criticism by the unwashed masses as much as his Democratic rival, he's not patient enough to wait for a constitutional amendment to trim free speech protections. The thin-skinned demagogue's preferred tactic is to make it easier to sue publications that criticize people like him—that is, wealthy, powerful people seeking public office.
"We're going to open up libel laws, and we're going to have people sue you like you've never got sued before," he announced earlier this year.
But the United States already has libel laws. If somebody publishes information about public figures—such as individuals jetting around the country seeking to wield the powers of the presidency—they must act out of actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth to be held liable.
That's not good enough for Trump who, to the extent that he actually understand the issue, wants to the U.S. to adopt Britain's laws.
"[I]n England you have a good chance of winning," he told a Miami CBS station. "And deals are made and apologies are made. Over here they don't have to apologize. They can say anything they want about you or me and there doesn't have to be any apology. England has a system where if they are wrong things happen."
"In American courts, the burden of proof rests with the person who brings a claim of libel," NPR pointed out in a 2015 article about the legal differences between the U.S. and Britain. "In British courts, the author or journalist has the burden of proof, and typically loses."
So Trump wants to adopt for the U.S. British laws that have already been adjudged so toxic to free speech beyond the U.K.'s borders that they've provoked legislative action on this side of the Atlantic.
Muslims. It's not often that you get a presidential candidate waging war against an entire religion, but Donald Trump has boldly gone where other political hopefuls have had too much decency to go before.
"Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on," his campaign announced last year.
Officials from across the political spectrum—and the planet–promptly denounced Trump's exclusionary position. Dick Cheney, the last vice president from Trump's own political party, commented that "this whole notion that somehow we need to say no more Muslims and just ban a whole religion goes against everything we stand for and believe in."
In July, when accepting the Republican nomination, Trump seemed to modify that proposed ban a bit, saying the United States "must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time it's proven that vetting mechanisms have been put in place."
Was he stepping down a bit on his anti-Muslim hostility?
"I don't think so. I actually don't think it's a rollback. In fact, you could say it's an expansion," Trump answered NBC's Chuck Todd. "I'm looking now at territory. People were so upset when I used the word 'Muslim': 'Oh, you can't use the word "Muslim."' Remember this. And I'm okay with that, because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim."
So…we're still talking about banning Muslims, but without using the word "Muslim," because that might offend people.
Trump's call for excluding members of an entire religion hasn't appeared much in recent political discussion, though that may be a sign of how much damage it's already done.
"[T]he Trump campaign has managed to turn the once-unspeakable into the so-mundane-it-doesn't-need-to-be-spoken-about, altering the American political landscape even before voters go to the polls," the Times of Israel warned in an astonished examination of the issue. "[W]ith the conversation having shifted in a roller coaster of an election year, it's no longer unfathomable that such a controversial proposal, one that could change America for generations if enacted, could go insufficiently interrogated from now until November 8."
There's little question of where Donald Trump stands on the treatment of Edward Snowden after the whistleblower warned us all about the U.S. government's snoopy ways.
"I think Snowden is a terrible threat," Trump announced before officially launching his presidential campaign. "I think he's a terrible traitor, and you know what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country, you know what we used to do to traitors, right?"
It's no surprise that the Republican presidential candidate favors surveillance of mosques, in general, given his overall prohibitive attitude toward Muslims. And given his old-school ideas on the treatment of "traitors" like Edward Snowden, it's equally unsurprising that he's all over electronic spying in general.
"Well, I tend to err on the side of security, I must tell you," he told radio host Hugh Hewitt when asked about the NSA and the Patriot Act. He even seemed to take being the subject of surveillance with a shrug.
"I assume when I pick up my telephone, people are listening to my conversations anyway, you want to know the truth. It's pretty sad commentary. But I err on the side of security."
Well, Trump has never displayed any tendencies toward shyness, so maybe he really doesn't give a damn what elements of his life get shared with the public—and can't imagine why anybody else would.
And don't think he'll overlook personal efforts to thwart snooping. He went ballistic when Apple battled FBI efforts to force the company to crack iPhone encryption.
"Who do they think they are?" he fumed. "They have to open it up."
Then he called for a boycott of Apple until such time as the tech giant surrendered to the government.
Although the boycott call didn't seem to apply to Trump's own actions. He kept tweeting from his iPhone.
Choose the form of the destructor
Sometime in the next 24 hours—or maybe the days and weeks to come, if this election stays true to form—we'll find out which contender for the presidency has won the prize. But you can assume ahead of time that the rest of us lose.
Whichever of these true gems of democracy ultimately claim residence in the White House, we can be certain that Trump and Clinton alike plan to leave us all less free once given an opportunity to exercise the power they've so vigorously sought—and that's been freely surrendered by so many American voters.