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Monday, July 15, 2019

Free speech: Change or leave?

A fascinating thing about the President's remarks this weekend about four female Democratic reps of color, and of many responses from several congressional Republicans, is the model of free expression they represent. That model amounts to "if you don't like it, leave the country." This is not new. The President and Republicans have said similar things about Colin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, and other athletes who kneel during the national anthem.

In this vision, there is no room for someone to criticize government policies or actions with the goal of prompting change. Nor is there a need to respond to criticisms by explaining why those critics are wrong and that the current action is the proper course. There is no need or room for discussion or debate--critics should shut up or get out.

Of course, the President's critics are seeing something good (i.e., anything he does) and purposely writing or saying bad. That, we learned last week, is not free speech.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 15, 2019 at 11:11 PM in Constitutional thoughts, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


This is not limited to the President or his race-baiting. Republicans making excuses for the President are making the same "love it or leave it" arguments, but the touchstone is not race or immigrant status, but "socialism." So AOC argues for "socialist" policies and the answer is "if you want socialism, leave America," not "here is why this socialist policy is wrong."

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 20, 2019 3:57:41 PM

Howard is definitely onto something here. This incident is part of a pattern in which the president embraces particular orthodoxies with regard to nationalism, religion, and "patriotism" and characterizes dissenters as un-American. True, the president has not taken many concrete steps to censor critics or use the power of his office to suppress dissent (although it's not clear he has never crossed that line either). I think the conflict with "the squad" fits the general pattern. I talk about the president's war on dissent in a forthcoming book, The First Amendment in the Trump Era (OUP 2019).

Posted by: Tim Zick | Jul 20, 2019 2:58:50 PM

"In this vision, there is no room for someone to criticize government policies or actions with the goal of prompting change.

It is true enough that this is a common Republican tactic but Trump's recent remarks are not an example of it. After all, Trump did invite these women to *come back*. So it's not fair to say that Trump is ridiculing the idea of change or talking about change, rather Trump is off-shoring social experimentation. He's saying that if you want to engage in social experimentation go do it to those other people first and when you have proved it works come back.

"critics should shut up or get out."

What he actually said, "Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how...."

Posted by: James | Jul 16, 2019 7:21:07 PM

Which are the "non-negotiable american values"?

The first amendment? The second amendment?

Or is the point of democracy that there are no "non-negotiable american values"? That every value is always at stake of being repealed by recent immigrants?

Isn't the point of the bill of rights that we no longer have to worry about immigrants repealing our "non-negotiable american values", so we can welcome immigrants?

Posted by: Anon Negotiables | Jul 16, 2019 6:55:01 PM

I didn't say it was a call for censorship. I was talking about how it reflects general understanding of public discussion and engagement. Someone says we should have a bigger social safety net and the response is if you don't like it here, leave; someone says we shouldn't put children in cages and the response is if you don't like it here, leave; someone says we need to do something about police-involved shootings and the response is if you don't like it here leave.

That represents a model free speech--of public debate and its role.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 16, 2019 6:58:34 AM

These four Congresswomen are standing up for American values, from what I have seen. Trump is not.

But look at it in a larger context. Trump has married three immigrant women. These are mostly not immigrant women. The ones he married were white. He has not been attacking white immigrants. He criticized the running of the country incessantly when an African American man was running it, even when Trump at the time had not been elected to anything - and got a regular platform on Fox to spew his (lack of) expertise about foreign policy and the like. These women were elected to help run the country. Repeatedly, his attacks on people are racist ones. You can try to excuse every one of his remarks as non-racist, but look at his whole body of work. He does not even apologize for she racism afterward.

Posted by: Hugh Schulz | Jul 16, 2019 6:02:36 AM

It's not clear to me that this represents a view about free speech (they didn't say the speech should be illegal). Seems to me it's more a way of saying "Tough shit" and suggesting their view represents true American values.

I mean it doesn't seem fundamentally different to me than a liberal who tells someone who objects to the fact that the cops can't just lock up the people they 'know' are a bad element "If you don't believe in due process why don't you move to Russia." They aren't suggesting that expressing that view should be illegal. Rather, they are suggesting that their view is a shared non-negotiable American value and implying that it's only inferior countries who don't share that view.

I mean it's still pretty awful to suggest that these views contravenes a non-negotiable american value akin to belief in due process but I don't see it as a call for censorship.

Posted by: Peter Gerdes | Jul 16, 2019 4:05:19 AM

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