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  • Writer's pictureCanniget A. Witness

Really?! This is a Series? : Donald Trump Does Not Understand How the First Amendment Works, Part 2

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

Before I say anything else, I wanted to apologize for something. My producer pointed out to me that two blog posts ago, I used the term, "those people" when talking about poor people of color and how some Republicans would like to make it harder for them to vote. I meant no offense, and I'm sorry if that term offended anyone. When I used the term, "those people", I meant that some Republicans want to stop you from voting if you are a poor person of color. I did not at all mean that I agree with those Republicans.

I do not agree.

During various campaigns I have been involved with, I have registered many, many people to vote. Even Republicans. And I have had many conversations with people who don't think it's worth their time to vote, because they think their vote doesn't really matter anyway. They are usually young, poor people of color. And I always, always tell them that it totally does matter. Even if they don't care about national politics, like who becomes our next president, there are local elections, and the outcomes of those elections will affect them in their everyday lives. So they should totally register to vote, and then vote! And then I hand them a voter registration card, because I keep a stack of them in the back seat of my car at all times. (Yes, I really am that crazy.)

So, again, I'm sorry about that. I will be more careful in my use of language going forward. And thank you to my producer for pointing it out to me.

Also, disclaimer: this blog is written by a commie pinko leftist Democratic Socialist feminist white girl. So if you ever read this blog, or listen to my podcast and think, 'What are you? Some kind of communist?' The answer is yes. Yes I am.

Okay, so back to the subject of this particular blog post. Unless you live under a rock, or are a Republican member of the United States Senate, (or both?) you have heard about Trump's weird photo op in front of Saint John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. You know the one - where Trump held up a Bible and had his picture taken in front of a church. Oh, I mean after Attorney General Barr had a bunch of peaceful protesters driven out of Lafayette Park.

Right before Trump walked over to the church, Barr ordered law enforcement officers, including Interior Department Park Police to push protesters away using riot shields, cops on horseback, batons, explosives, and tear gas.

Trump and his cronies have since denied that tear gas was used. Trump essentially called it fake news, and called the coughing reporters a bunch of liars. The truth is that they used pepper balls, which are sometimes confused with tear gas, because they produce many of the same physical effects on the people at whom they are shot. With either irritating agent, people experience extreme burning in the eyes, nose, mouth and skin. Other side effects include temporary blindness, nasal discharge, and higher blood pressure. Those are pretty much the same effects that people suffer when they are tear gassed. So when Trump and his cronies claimed that tear gas wasn't used, they weren't saying that a chemical irritant wasn't used. They're just saying it's not the one that was reported.

I say six of one, half dozen of the other, Trump. You shouldn't have had them sprayed with any chemical irritant at all.

Okay, so here is where Trump showed us that he does not understand any part of the First Amendment. The First Amendment has a lot of stuff in it. It's most famous for guaranteeing the right to free speech, but there is a lot of other stuff in there, too. It says that Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. That means that the federal and state governments can't pass laws that make one religion the state religion. So they can't make you go to one particular church. They also can't pass laws that prevent you from going to whatever church you want to go to. The other side of the coin is a thing called freedom from religion, so the federal and state governments can't force you to go to any church at all. (Now, this doesn't mean your mom can't make you go.)

Also included in the First Amendment is freedom of the press. That means that reporters can write about stuff that happens in our country, even if the people in power don't like what they have to say. This is not true in some places. China, for example, has no freedom of the press. I visited China in 2005, and was surprised to learn that all of the media printed or broadcast in China must first pass through a government censor. That blew my mind. But I imagine that if you're a dictator, it can be pretty handy to not allow the press to criticize any of the terrible things that you are doing. I also imagine that a thin-skinned, mean-spirited tyrant like Trump probably dreams of living in a place like China, where the press are not allowed to criticize their leaders. Trump would be so happy in China. Maybe he should move there.

The last right guaranteed in the First Amendment is the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. That means that people can get together in a group for the purpose of telling the government that something is wrong, and the government needs to fix it. A perfect example of this is the group of Black Lives Matters protesters that were peacefully assembled in Lafayette Park on the day that Trump had his weird photo op in front of the church. They were there to petition their government for redress of several grievances. Those grievances include, but are not limited to, cops treating Black people so harshly that it far too often leads to a Black person being killed.

The protesters were in a public park, which is a place that is always open for speech. They were not on Trump's private property. If they had been on Trump's, or anyone's private property, the owner could have asked the protesters to leave, and they would have had to leave. But that was not the case here. They were in a public park, which is one of those places that has always been open for free speech since the beginning of our country. And they were peaceful. They had no weapons. They weren't shooting at anyone, or even trying to beat anyone up. They were carrying signs, and chanting, but that was about it.

So there was no good reason for Barr to order the protesters to be cleared away by force. The protesters weren't threatening anyone, least of all Trump. They probably were annoying Trump, but that alone was not enough to warrant the use of pepper balls, though Trump probably felt otherwise.

How can I be so sure that Trump was fine with the level of force used in making the protesters move out of his way so he could go take his bizarre photo? Because after it happened, we never heard Trump apologize. We haven't heard him say anything like, "Oh, wow. Were protesters hurt so that I could go take my picture holding the Bible? I'm sorry. Hey, Barr. You should never have done this." Instead, we heard Trump argue about whether tear gas or pepper balls were used on the crowd. We heard no apology because Trump did not think he did anything wrong.

What Trump did do was trample on the protesters' First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble to petition their government for a redress of their grievances. And since members of the press were there also, and also suffered the effects of the pepper balls, Trump also trampled on their First Amendment right to a free press. The reporters were just there doing their jobs. They did not deserve to suffer from the pepper balls, or any of the rest of Trump's unlawful show of force.

So Trump has once again shown us that he does not understand the First Amendment. But I don't think he wants to. It's a really inconvenient Amendment for him. So I wouldn't expect him to try to understand what it means, because he prefers to ignore it when it suits him.

But I care. And you probably care too, if you've read this far. So I decided that this was a teachable moment. And maybe now you know a little more about the First Amendment. And that's pretty groovy.

I know I harp on this a lot, but it really is important that you register to vote if you aren't registered already. Since I can't see you, and thus can't hand you a paper voter registration card, here's a link where you can register online:

We also need to get rid of Trump's cronies in the Senate. So I would recommend donating time and money to Swing Left, and the Payback Project. Here are some links:

Until next time, please stay safe. Wash your hands, wear your mask, keep your distance. And don't give up.

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1 Comment

Peg Lamphier
Peg Lamphier
Oct 22, 2020

There's a LOT of scary stuff about that Lafayette Park moment, but the worst is that L. P. is LITERALLY right behind the White House. It's the White House's back yard. So Trump and Barr violated the First Amendment, not across town from the seat of American Democracy, but in that seat's back yard. RIGHT THERE. And America was outraged for 15 minutes, then we had to move on to the next outrage. That's the beauty of Trumpism... there's so much repulsive stuff you can't focus on any one thing.

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