Don’t let your First Amendment rights be silenced by fear
I witnessed the saddest thing in the world last week: someone relinquishing her First Amendment rights — out of fear. I’ll call her “Bee,” because she’s terrified of the repercussions of publicly speaking her mind in a letter to the editor. A letter about the First Amendment.
Oh, the irony.
I mean, come on. It’s just Winters, not the south side of Chicago. Seriously? People right here in our little town are quaking with fear of harassment or harm or worse, simply for stating their opinions? What the heck is going on out there?
Sure, I’m probably calloused to the repercussions of speaking my mind, because after 25 years of shoving my own view of the truth under people’s noses and dealing with the fallout, I’ve discovered that A) my skin is thicker than I realized, and B) not everyone will like me or my opinions, and that C) that’s OK, because I don’t like everyone or their opinions either. I’ll file them under “Whatever” and move on.
But poor Bee. She lobbied me vigorously to run her letter anonymously, citing fear of retribution, the only reason we’ll withhold a name, and the criteria are quite strict. “Because people will be really mad at me” doesn’t qualify as “retribution” at the Express. Losing your job, suffering bodily injury… these are valid reasons to withhold a name. But simply pissing people off? Welcome to my life, Bee.
Despite my efforts to assuage her fears, Bee insisted that horrible things would happen to her if her name was on the letter, but I held firm not only because I wasn’t buying it, but because her letter was amazing. She touched upon the topics I’d planned to write about myself: the threat to the First Amendment under a Trump presidency, and how the electors of the Electoral College need to be courageous and exercise their Constitutional duty to reject a clearly unfit election “winner” and cast their votes for the candidate with two million more votes than him. The electors have the right to do this, and if ever there wasn’t a time to wimp out, this is it. America is in the balance.
Yes, I could have written about this myself, and I’d have been infinitely less gentle than Bee. But I decided to publish Bee’s letter instead, in its entirety, because it’s intelligent, articulate and compelling, and deserves to be read. Additionally, I’m deeply troubled that someone is too terrified to speak her truth, and because I’m passionate about the First Amendment. It’s the cornerstone upon which the rest of the Constitution rests. Without the First Amendment, our Constitution crumbles and so does our democracy.
I have a request, however: if you like what Bee has to say, please write a letter. Let’s coax her, (you?) and others who are silenced by fear into exercising their First Amendment rights. And if you disagree, write that too, because that’s what it’s all about: freedom of speech.
And now, I give you — Bee:
“The Nov. 8 election determined the members of the Electoral College who will elect our next president. Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by over two million, but Donald Trump is the presumed winner of the Electoral College.
The minority of Americans who voted for Trump, in their determination to reject Clinton’s cronyism, were misled into supporting someone far more corrupt. Many, suffering economic hardship and understandably eager for change, made the mistake of accepting change in any form.
Trump achieved his electoral victory dishonestly, saying whatever he needed to say to win with total disregard for truth, aided by white supremacists, fake news, and Russian hackers. A Trump presidency would be a grave threat to democracy as we know it, due to Trump’s authoritarian impulses and admiration for the tactics of dictators.
Luckily, the Founding Fathers provided a safety valve for this situation. The Constitution requires the Electoral College to evaluate the candidate’s qualifications and reject an unfit candidate (Federalist Paper #68). The electors should reject Trump. If there was ever a time in U.S. history when this was called for, it is now.
All the reasons Trump is unfit to be president won’t fit in this letter, but here is one especially compelling reason. Freedom of the press is an essential cornerstone of democracy. Trump persistently shows contempt for this principle, instead seeking to manipulate the reporting Americans receive for his own purposes. He rewards journalists who ‘toe his line’ and punishes those who cover him critically.
For example, he has a long history as a ‘libel bully,’ filing frivolous lawsuits against news organizations to drain their finances with legal fees. He routinely withholds press credentials in order to ‘pick and choose’ among news organizations based on how favorably they cover him. He refuses to denounce vicious harassment by his supporters, who bombarded certain journalists with hate messages and death threats to try to silence them.
At rallies, Trump confined reporters inside pens and instigated aggression towards them from the crowd. He regularly intimidates the press, berating them with insults and threatening to change laws to make them more vulnerable. These actions violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment and undermine democracy.
After years of murky and manipulated reporting under President Trump, with journalists unable to communicate freely, will Americans know enough to make informed choices at the ballot box? Or will it be impossible to distinguish real news from propaganda? I cannot persuade myself that this fear is not rational.
The risk that over 200 years of democracy might end transcends partisan politics and calls on Americans of all parties and persuasions to unite in resisting Trump’s authoritarianism. We need to put country over party, as did the Republicans who voted against Trump and the Democrats who are now asking the Electoral College to replace Trump with a different Republican. For the sake of our democracy let us hope and pray that the electors do their Constitutional duty and reject Donald Trump.”