The president of the United States thinks more should be done to ban protesters and impede the ability of authors to write books critical of him.
As the major political news on Tuesday began to focus on the raucous opening confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump criticized protesters who repeatedly interrupted the proceedings.
“I’m amazed that people allow the interruptions to continue,” he told the Daily Caller in an interview on Tuesday. “There [are] some people that just keep screaming. In the old days, we used to throw them out. Today, I guess they just keep screaming.”
The president was not content to simply criticize. He went further, suggesting lawmakers do something about people exercising their right to free speech.
“I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that,” Trump said. “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on.”
Capitol Hill police arrested 70 people in the first day of hearings.
Republican senators like Texas’ John Cornyn criticized the Republican chair’s handling of the protesters, referring to “mob rule” as the protesters continually interrupted Kavanaugh’s hearing. “Get them out of here, my God,” was the suggestion from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT).
Democrats on the committee, who engaged in their own professional disruption in an attempt to delay the hearing so they could examine thousands of pages of records released barely 12 hours before the hearing began, saw the protests in a different light. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) called it “the noise of democracy,” and explained why it was a understandable and necessary reaction to Trump’s decision to replace Kennedy with Kavanaugh.
Trump’s attack on the First Amendment didn’t end with his call to curtail protesters’ free speech rights.
Less than 24 hours later, Trump called for “Washington politicians” to “change libel laws,” presumably in reaction to leaked excerpts from a forthcoming tell-all book by journalist Bob Woodward about the Trump White House.
Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost. Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 5, 2018
To state that again, the person in charge of one of three branches of the federal government — a man who already exhibits authoritarian tendencies — suggested that federal laws be changed to make it more difficult for a journalist to write a well-sourced and by all accounts accurate book that happens to be critical of him.
In 2016, Trump was asked if the First Amendment provided “too much protection.” He lamented that “our press is allowed to say whatever they want,” and explained why he preferred libel laws in the United Kingdom, where someone suing a media company has a better chance of prevailing because a defendant in a libel case must prove their statements are true. In the U.S., the plaintiff must prove a statement is false, and that the statement was made with deliberate, malicious intent.
In April 2017, then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that the administration had “looked at” changing libel laws.
He does appear to care about the First Amendment in a few select cases, though: when his own comments are criticized, when corporate money is labeled speech by courts, or when universities cancel speeches by provocateurs who collaborate with white supremacists.
Early last year, after UC Berkeley cancelled Milo Yiannopoulos’ planned talk on their campus amid intense planned protests, Trump suggested that the school should lose its federal funding. Yiannopoulos has peddled white supremacy and defended pedophilia.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
A university cancelling one speech on its campus does not constitute the denial of Yiannopoulos’s First Amendment rights. In fact, two weeks after Trump’s tweet, his beloved Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) similarly rescinded its invitation for Yiannopoulos to speak.
Trump is on the lookout for examples of his own First Amendment rights being compromised. After his campaign announcement speech in which he called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” he shared a Newsmax article titled “Donald Trump and the End of Free Speech,” which lamented the massive public criticism those remarks elicited. Again, no one attempted to change laws to prevent Trump from being able to speak.
In Trump’s view, the First Amendment wins when unlimited amounts of money can be spent to influence elections.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2014
Trump tweeted a congratulations to David Bossie and Citizens United in 2014 after they won a court case which allowed corporations and conservative donors to fund Bossie’s political film without having their donations disclosed. Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s office initially ruled the movie was essentially a political ad, thereby beholden to the state’s campaign finance laws. The movie, “Rocky Mountain Heist,” criticized a “a secretive group of leftist millionaires and billionaires” for turning Colorado into a more progressive state.
Trump called it “an important court win for the First Amendment.”