In his 1644 work Areopagitica, John Milton proclaimed, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
Indeed, there is no greater cause of liberty than the sanctity of a free mind and the faculty to act according to it. In fact, without free thinking, no other rights matter or make sense.
When we lose our right to think freely, we lose our very humanity. Look no further than the Soviet Union and North Korea, just two of the most recent examples of regimes crushing their people so brutally that they no longer could safeguard their natural right to autonomy. These regimes’ victims could not defend themselves against the state. They could not provide for themselves. They could not advocate for themselves. They could not protect their basic human dignity. And they certainly couldn’t pursue happiness as they saw it.
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John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed. “Security under our constitution is given to the rights of conscience and private judgment,” he explained. “They are by nature subject to no control but that of Deity, and in that free situation they are now left.”
President Thomas Jefferson reaffirmed this principle, arguing, “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprise of the civil authority.”
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For 21st-century Americans, there is no greater threat to this innate human right than Donald Trump. Time and time again, he has sought to silence those who dare disagree with him. He has meted out swift retribution to those who have acted in opposition to his aims or desires. And he promises to continue in this vein as president.
A few weeks ago, the reality-television star sent Senator Ted Cruz a cease-and-desist letter, ordering his opponent to take down verifiably true television advertisements about Trump’s pro-abortion record. If Cruz refused, Trump warned, he would face a lawsuit in court challenging his citizenship eligibility to be president. In front of the whole world, Donald Trump attempted to blackmail Cruz, as though we live in Venezuela and not the United States of America. It’s Trump’s world, and in it, you are no longer to speak the truth about Donald Trump.
It’s Trump’s world, and in it, you are no longer to speak the truth about Donald Trump.
Speaking of Trump’s penchant for blackmail, the suddenly Republican presidential candidate issued a scathing warning to GOP donor and private citizen Marlene Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, for giving $3 million to a super PAC that opposed his candidacy.
“I hear the Rickets [sic] family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $’s against me,” he tweeted Monday. “They better be careful, they have a lot to hide.”
According to The Hill, an individual connected to the super PAC marveled at the horrifying method Trump used to intimidate his opponents. “It’s this kind of brazen social-media scare tactic that makes one wonder what Trump would do with the power of the White House, the IRS, or FBI,” the source said, adding that Trump’s missive was “an outright threat and bullying aimed at a family who disagrees with Trump’s plan for America and has contributed to Our Principles PAC.”
While Trump routinely brushes off such bluster as good business tactics, he’s made absolutely no indication that he’d leave the bullying outside the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
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On Friday, the (or so we’re told) billionaire vowed that as president he would “open up our libel laws so when [reporters] write purposefully negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.” That’s right. In the United States of America, a Republican presidential candidate mused about disemboweling the First Amendment to silence the media and political dissent.
Perhaps even more frightening is that his fans so blindly emulate him that they are assuming his most repulsive attributes. Day after day, his eager supporters revel in his totalitarian threats and dutifully inflict them upon Trump dissidents. Even a cursory scan of social media returns a plethora of posts from Trump diehards warning: “Trump is going to be president. You better take down this post or you’re gonna pay.” Or, “You better just accept it. Trump’s gonna win and people like you are gonna suffer.” Plenty of the pro-Trump posts consist of nothing more than obscenities, name-calling, and threats.
This is probably because many of his fans believe they are victims — victims of evil corporations, victims of an evil government, victims of the evil political elite. In Donald Trump, they see themselves as victims no longer, but instead, as Davids finally slaying Goliaths. The prospect of burning down these institutions and brutalizing those within them is titillating to them.
Trump has ascended to power by trampling over the ‘little guy,’ and in a Trump administration, it’s that same ‘little guy’ who would suffer most.
It’s frightening to consider that they emulate a man who cares so little for their fate. Like any dictator worth his sickle, Trump has ascended to power by trampling over the “little guy,” from defrauding (allegedly!) thousands of Americans at his scam Trump University to attempting to evict an elderly widow from her home to build a limousine parking lot. (By the way, as a self-styled devout Christian, Trump should know that the Bible is pretty clear on how we’re supposed to treat widows.)
In a hypothetical Trump administration, it’s that same “little guy” who would suffer most. If he’s willing to dismantle the First Amendment — and, by extension, all of the media — to quash independent thinking, what would he do to a secretary posting a critique of him on social media? Would he sic government agencies on her? Would she endure abuse from the IRS? Would he try to use the courts to sue her? At least the media can defend themselves. In a Trump regime, could she?I wish to make myself abundantly clear: This is America, not a banana republic. Aside from my Maker, I have exclusive dominion over myself. I will be damned if I let anyone rule me, and I will not live afraid of anyone, including the unlikely President Trump. I will not be intimidated to surrender my conscience and my will to act according to it.
As a candidate, Donald Trump is a bully. As a president, Donald Trump would be a tyrant. I love my country too much — and I hope my countrymen do, too — to give him that chance.
— Ellen Carmichael is president of The Lafayette Company, a political-consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. She has served as a senior communications adviser for a Republican presidential campaign, members of Congress, and statewide elected officials. Follow her on Twitter @ellencarmichael.