Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Trump’s Twitter has unprecedented influence on society

(Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

On Sept. 23, President Trump gave an order—not to the executive branch which he governs—but to a major private institution in a two-part tweet: “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL [National Football League], or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” This came after a rally during which Trump wished that owners would “get that son of a bitch off the field,” referring to players that kneel during the anthem.

His wish may yet be granted. Weeks later, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to all team owners supporting the notion that “everyone should stand” for the anthem and “move past this controversy.” It remains to be seen whether this will remain a suggestion or become an enforced rule, but it is nevertheless on the table.

More strangely, the effect of Trump’s comment has trickled down to some public schools. One school in Windfern, Texas is now facing a lawsuit after a student was suspended for sitting through the Pledge of Allegiance. In Crosby, Texas, two students were kicked off their high school football team for protesting during the anthem. The ACLU also tweeted in response to four Greenville, Mississippi high school football players that were similarly removed from the team for kneeling during the anthem.

According to the Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, any public or state-run institution that punishes students for not complying with pledge or anthem traditions “violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” While private colleges and the NFL do not necessarily have to adhere to this rule of law, public schools — perhaps even University of Massachusetts — would. What does it mean, then, when members of society are willing to stand against the law of the land in the spirit of Trump’s demands?

This comes at a time as Trump is roiling up his attacks on the news media. On Oct. 11, he tweeted: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

We talk vigorously about freedom of speech at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, and rightfully so. But we often take for granted that we don’t live in fear of the original sin behind the first amendment: government censorship. Particularly in 1931, the Supreme Court ruled that “prior restraint,” or prohibiting speech under the power of the state, was contrary to the First Amendment. Once again, what Trump suggests here is unconstitutional.

I often object to pundits overanalyzing Trump’s erratic behavior. I also reject slippery slope theories. Claims that hone in on the fear of where something will stop are usually fallacious distractions until a clear progression forms. In this case, we can begin to spot that path. When Trump felt a ban on transgender people in the military was necessary, he tweeted it. Now, the military is pondering an official plan. When he didn’t like so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ and wanted to cut funding toward them, he tweeted it until these efforts had to be struck down by the courts. Each of these instances tests the loyalty of a different group or institution, and the NFL issue is no different. At a time of tense relations with North Korea, a destructive hurricane season and a heated healthcare debate, our President abruptly decided to put a knife to a sore division in our country and make it bleed again.

This was Trump’s greatest exploitation of media tools yet. Since the drama was reignited, we find ourselves arguing about the semantics of patriotism, conjuring overthought opinions as to what degree free speech predominates over national tradition rather than shrugging it off and discussing the reason we are faced with this question in the first place: Should we do anything to train police officers differently or change our broken justice system? Dissent should not be replaced with patriotic brawls.

Whether egotistical, self-righteous or proto-fascist, these provocations need to be critically watched by the public. Even the iconic right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh did just that, stating, “We don’t want the president being able to demand anybody that he’s unhappy with [to] behave in a way he requires.” Indeed, we are a nation of laws. It should stay that way.

James Mazarakis is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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