Donald Trump against the First Amendment

by Charles C. W. Cooke

It’s always a touch futile trying to parse Donald Trump’s public statements — from what I can tell, he goes where the wind is and has given no more thought to his positions than does your average salmonberry — but this tweet interested me nevertheless:

This is classic Trump. For a start, we are reminded once again the man has some of the thinnest skin that has ever been seen on a public figure. Being almost entirely without principle or compass, Trump determines his attitude toward anyone and anything by what it can do for him. Because we don’t support him, National Review must not only be a “failing paper,” but it must be driven out of business forever, by any means necessary. As far as I can see, nobody can go near the guy without inviting such a dismissal, which is odd for a self-identified tough guy and a supposed opponent of “pc.”

More interesting, though, is that Trump is willing to jump into bed with any progressive cause that might temporarily annoy his critics. The link next to his hysterical “National Review is over” claim goes to a piece by Damon Linker, over at The Week. And the subject of that piece is a lawsuit that National Review, CEI, and Mark Steyn are fighting against Michael Mann, a rather nasty little character who believes that the court system exists to settle the political disputes in which he has found himself embroiled. Naturally, I have my own professional and political interests in seeing this case resolved in National Review’s favor. But, those interests to one side, it is indisputable that the Mann case has significant First Amendment implications, which is why a wide array of journalists and civil rights groups have filed amicus briefs that express support for the defendants. Among those who have contributed are:

the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, American Society of News Editors, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the Association of American Publishers, Inc., Bloomberg L.P., the Center for Investigative Reporting, First Amendment Coalition, First Look Media, Fox News Network LLC, Gannett Co., Inc., Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the National Press Club, National Press Photographers Association, NBCUniversal Media, LLC, Newspaper Association of America, North Jersey Media Group Inc., Online News Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, the Seattle Times Company, Society of Professional Journalists, Stephens Media LLC, Time Inc., Tribune Publishing Company, Tully Center for Free Speech, Washington City Paper, and the Washington Post​. 

Not to mention:

Newsmax Media, Inc., Free Beacon, LLC, the Foundation for Cultural Review, the Daily Caller, LLC, PJ Media, LLC, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation . . . the District of Columbia . . . [and] the Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, Individual Rights Foundation, and Goldwater Institute 

Which is to say that this question clearly has much less to do with National Review’s editorial stances than with the future of free speech in the United States. Naturally, I cannot know if Trump is so irredeemably careless that he merely Googled “National Review out of business” and then tweeted the first link that came up, or if he is so unsalvageably corrupt that, having discovered this story and understood it, he elected to take a shot anyhow. But I do know this: Anybody who is on the other side of this lawsuit is not somebody I would want in the White House — especially if that person already had a long and unlovely history of bullying anybody who dares to dissent from his will.

Thus far in this election season, Trump has suggested that the federal government should use existing FCC rules to fine his detractors, and he has tried to sue into oblivion those who would dare to agree with them. As president, he would inherit a set of powers that have only metastasized as the years have rolled on. For the sake of the First Amendment alone, it would be better if the man were kept as far away from them as is possible. From his paternally subsidized real estate empire, the worst that Trump can do to the little guy is refuse to pay him for his hard-won time; from the comfort of 1600 Penn, he could unleash every bottom-lip-wobble upon the American public writ-large.

Trump/Mann 2016, anybody?

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