There’s nothing quite like that first ride on a new roller coaster. The excitement builds as the carriage clicks up the initial climb, gently rising to the last hump. When you reach it, your stomach begins to drop and you realize you’re split seconds away from a 70mph plunge. Imagine looking over that hump, excited and prepared, only to realize this track is headed straight for a black hole.
The 2016 Election, born in optimism for America’s future, quickly descended into a vortex of negativity, and the race has yet to recover. USA Today reports 65% of voters fear the opposing candidate more than they support their own candidate. This comes as no surprise; the parties have made a habit of insulting, accusing and lying about the opposition while trying to one-down each other on the race toward November’s “Best of the Worst” award.
Freedom of Speech has learned a lot about itself along the way, one candidate snapping all existing boundaries while the other remains hidden behind the walls of political correctness. The absurdity has many Americans wondering what Free Speech means in today’s wacky world of politics, and the next president will take the lead on figuring this out. So, where do the candidates stand on the issue?
The success of the Democratic Candidate (DC) as a lawyer and stateswoman would not have been possible without Freedom of Speech, a value most lawyers and politicians hold dear. Why, then, has she often been at the forefront of rejecting the First Amendment?The DC has made the overturning of the controversial Citizens United bill one of her core platforms. Citizens United was a bill passed by Congress in 2010 making it legal for corporations and unions to finance politically biased ads under the protection of Free Speech. The main criticism of Citizens United is that it has established a precedent for Super PACs to wield great influence over elections, confining the average voter to the outskirts of political advocacy. The DC has said were she elected president, she would only appoint Supreme Court justices who vowed to overturn the bill1.
The DC, backed by her party, has called on the Justice Department to investigate corporate fraud in regards to fossil fuel companies that “mislead shareholders on the scientific reality of climate change.” Comparisons are drawn with the $280 billion case brought up against big tobacco in United States vs. Phillip Morris (1999) for defrauding Americans on the negative health effects of smoking. Big tobacco cited the First Amendment as protection for their marketing strategies, but the US Court of Appeals ruled that Freedom of Speech does not cover ignoring science for the purposes of marketing. In 2013 NASA reported that 97% of climate scientists agree human action is speeding up climate change2. Still, the jury is not entirely in, and this seeming lack of evidence has some saying the DC’s call for litigation is an infringement on the Free Speech of climate change deniers.
By authoring the book It Takes A Village and sponsoring bills like the Communications Decency Act and the Child Online Protection Act, the DC made clear she is in favor of censoring certain materials from the American people. She notoriously blamed the Benghazi attack on a YouTube video and has also been known to criticize video games, movies, and TV shows for their content. While some agree that America’s damaged psyche could benefit from a reduction in graphic entertainment, others say statements like the ones below are the first step in government censorship.
i. “The media, more than any other single institution in our society, has affected how children are raised and how they see themselves and what they think of their futures.”
ii. “If I could do one thing to help children in our country, it would be to change what they see in the media.”
iii. “Why can’t all of us—including the media—give parents more control over what their children see on TV, the movies, the Internet, and video games?”
The RepublicanThe Republican candidate’s (RC) off-the-wall statements have pushed Free Speech further than any politician thought possible. The list of controversial statements is endless, and most election followers know his go-to phrases by heart. But while the RC considers himself a political outsider, the irony in his behavior is something Americans are used to seeing in the political arena. An article in the National Review called the RC’s campaign “one big safe space,” citing the candidate’s non-disclosure agreement with his campaign volunteers. The agreement effectively says all volunteers must refrain from criticizing the candidate – for life3.
Nearly every one of the RC’s private events has involved an arrest. The candidate’s request that demonstrators be escorted from the venue has left some wondering whether an order to arrest protestors is an infringement on their Freedom of Speech. It is legal to have a person removed from a private event regardless of their alleged crime. It is illegal, however, for authorities to arrest someone for something they said.
The RC’s verbal onslaught against the media is what most worries Free Speech crusaders. His list of Twitter attacks is endless, and some of his most notorious are listed below. In short, the candidate has outright promised to shut down Freedom of the Press to publish what they want, sighting CNN and the NY Times in particular. According to the RC, the media should not be allowed to report on their findings unless those facts have been affirmed by the parties involved in the story. He has also accused the media of being a hand of the Democratic party, a claim many Republicans uphold.
i. “It is not ‘freedom of the press’ when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!”
ii. “It is being reported, by virtually everyone, and is a fact, that the media pile on against me is the worst in American political history!”
iii. “I am not only fighting Crooked Hillary, I am fighting the dishonest and corrupt media and her government protection process. People get it!”
iv. “My rallies are not covered properly by the media. They never discuss the real message and never show crowd size or enthusiasm.”
v. “If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn’t put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20%”
In suppressing his opponents, the RC has vowed to reopen America’s libel laws were he elected Most Powerful Man on Earth. At a rally in Forth Worth, Texas, the candidate unleashed a tirade against the New York Times and Washington Post suggesting they will “have problems” if he becomes president. Quoted word-for-word by Politico, the candidate said, “I’m going to open up our libel laws… so we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”4 America’s libel laws are some of the weakest in the Western world, and the number of successful libel lawsuits is sparse in American history. Freedom of Speech has almost always reigned supreme.
The Democratic and Republican candidates both claim to be Free Speech crusaders, albeit for different reasons. They must if they want to make a serious run at becoming Commander in Chief. Americans hold their First Amendment dear, but they are increasingly losing sight of what the document means. The next President of the United States will be sure to help them figure it out.