Will anti-Trump protesters be dumb enough to take the bait?
Seemingly out of the blue, Donald Trump Tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” He may have responded to a Fox News Channel report on veterans protesting Hampshire College in Amherst, which decided to remove all flags from campus. The college’s flag was found burned on Veterans’ Day.
Let’s get a key point out of the way: Stripping an American of his citizenship is thankfully difficult and rare. If you’re a naturalized citizen – born in a foreign country and legally becoming a citizen through the application and approval process – your citizenship can be revoked if the government learns you were ineligible, or you lied or hid important information about yourself. The Supreme Court has upheld an “unusually high burden of proof in denaturalization cases.”
Natural-born U.S. citizens cannot have their citizenship revoked, but can choose to renounce their citizenship. Notice the Constitution explicitly mentions death as a potential punishment for treason, but not loss of citizenship!
Several times in recent years, GOP lawmakers introduced legislation to allow revocation of citizenship for anyone providing material assistance to foreign terrorist organizations, or membership, training, and oaths of allegiance to terrorist groups. Some conservatives have questioned whether that change to the law is really necessary if U.S. policy is to arrest, detain, and/or drone-strike these people.
The big question in the coming days and weeks will be whether anti-Trump protesters have the self-control and self-awareness to realize that burning any American flags will play directly into Trump’s hands. As Charles pointed out, a ban on flag-burning is extremely popular, and most Americans instinctively detest the sight of the flag being burned. That’s the sort of provocation that raging anti-American mobs in foreign countries embrace. Of course, it’s likely that the most passionate – some would say unhinged – activists opposed to Trump are more interested in their own emotional catharsis than persuading the public about policy decisions.
Regardless of how they would justify their incendiary actions, any flag-burning anti-Trump protesters might as well hold up signs saying “we hate America,” because it will have the same effect on public opinion.