Donald Trump Is a Greater Threat to Free Speech Than the Campus Left

Trump's flag-burning comments fit a pattern of disrespect for the First Amendment.


More Trump
Lora Olive/ZUMA Press/Newscom

President-Elect Donald Trump recently tweeted that people who burn the American flag should be put in jail or even lose their American citizenship. This ignorant, despicable statement should make a plain truth even more obvious: Trump will not defend free speech from the forces of censorship—he represents the forces of censorship.

Over at National Review, Katherine Timpf wonders who is "worse" for free speech: Trump or "campus snowflakes"? Her article implies that Trump may well be worse. "No doubt, a lot of people voted for Donald Trump because they wanted to put a stop to the 'safe space' culture that's running rampant on college campuses across the country," she writes. "I'm just not so sure he's the man to do it."

I'll go a step further: we can be pretty sure.

Trump is as thin-skinned and easily-offended as the most delicate leftist student activist—safe spaces and all. But at least the social justice left is largely confined to college campuses. Trump, on the other hand, is in control of the entire federal government.

We know that Trump thinks people who speak out against him or say things he doesn't like should be punished. He has routinely threatened to jail journalists for doing their jobs. He wants to use the powers of the presidency to make it easier for him to sue his critics out of business.

Everyone who sincerely thought Trump would destroy political correctness and restore the primacy of the First Amendment was deluding themselves. He has never cared about anyone's right to speak, unless he happened to like the speaker. Trump is an embodiment of the antithesis of free speech: if he does not agree with what you say, he may challenge your right to say it.

Yes, a President Hillary Clinton would have been just as bad on free speech. Yes, Clinton has gone to even greater lengths to prohibit flag burning. Yes, Clinton thinks her political opponents shouldn't be able to make a movie that criticizes her. She won't be president, and that's great. It's a win for the First Amendment.

But Trump will be president, and that's still a loss. It means libertarians and conservatives who support unfettered free speech have a responsibility to denounce him at least as vehemently as they denounce the campus left.