“Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” is a quote probably misattributed to Thomas Jefferson. But citizens fighting against government overreach and injustice in our institutions is essential to who we are as Americans.
The election of President Donald Trump has prompted widespread concerns about his business interest conflicts and his temperament to be President. And now his Muslim travel ban and his many previous outlandish statements suggest a complete disinterest in how our Constitutional government functions differently than the businesses he has operated.
Donald Trump’s statements suggest an unprecedented threat to the 1st amendment, (flag burning, freedom of the press), the 5th amendment (due process) the 8th amendment (torture), the 14th amendment (equal protection)
Protests have broken out across the nation since election day, and are only intensifying post inauguration and beyond. Protesters are legitimately upset and concerned about his abnormalcy, and extremely divisive rhetoric against groups like Mexicans and Muslims, not simply the fact that he won and people disagree with him.
But if we want to win the argument that Trump is an unprecedented threat to the US Constitution, we should do it while waving the American flag, not burning it.
Any National Protest Should Be Under Our Flag
It looks like this will be a time of unprecedented national protest. In just over a week of a Trump presidency, resistance to his executive orders banning immigrants from many middle eastern countries from travelling to the US has galvanized protesters across the nation.
People keep saying the resistance needs a banner to unite under. We already have one. This is our banner. The POTUS is not America. We are. pic.twitter.com/8yEVvtEWCx
— The Resistance (@TheGayHumanist) January 29, 2017
Recent flag burning controversy shows authoritarian impulses
Donald Trump reignited discussion and controversy about flag burning with a tweet that said flag burners should be jailed and deported.
Given how sensitive to criticism Trump has been throughout the campaign, it is easy to predict that a Trump administration will battle any forms of protest or strong opposition once he has actual executive power. And many of his potential cabinet and staff picks appear to share his combative style.
Attorney General Nominee Senator Jeff Sessions is an opponent of civil liberties and protesters in particular. He has previously said that an anti-war protest group “did not represent the American ideals of freedom, liberty and spreading that around the world. I frankly don’t know what they represent, other than to blame America first.”
Mayor Rudy Guiliani, previously an Attorney General contender and regular spokesman on the Muslim ban issue is also a true. civil liberties threat. He referred to anti-Trump protesters in New York city as “goons and thugs”.
We must expect this kind of attitude to be pervasive in the Trump administration. And other authoritarians around the country under the banner of “law and order” are emboldened by Trump, and looking to shut down protests.
A bill to effectively criminalize dissent has been filed in Washington state that would make any protesters who are “accomplices” in events that cause property destruction could be charged with a felony. And blocking traffic could be a felony of “economic terrorism“. While most disorderly conduct charges are trivial, arresting people on an inflated felony charge is much worse.
So while burning the American flag is completely legal, it is immensely counterproductive to getting anyone on your side.
Ok whoa. The burning flag statement is ONLY to get video of anti-Trump people burning flags to use as propaganda. 100% serious. Pls RT.
— Summer Brennan (@summerbrennan) November 29, 2016
Positive public pressure is needed in future protests
Former George W. Bush administration speechwriter David Frum has been a consistent critic of Trump, and raised serious warnings that he is “up to no good“. Frum hopes public pressure can help in getting a Republican-controlled Congress to act on issues like legislative protections against presidential conflicts of interests.
In a recent media appearance, Frum said:
If you are moved to protest, do it in ways that people find attractive and convincing, not in ways that make you look like a jerk.
Do things that people like, not things they don’t like. Carry the flag, treat it with respect, don’t block traffic.
If you have veterans in your group, put them in the front. If you have people who know how to smile, put them in the front.
Remember the most powerful exponents in this campaign were the Khan family, people who accepted american norms. Accept them yourself.
Don’t concede the flag to people you are attacking the republic and the constitution. It is not their flag.
The people who are defending the republic and the constitution own the flag.
Positive, upbeat and pro-American protests against Donald Trump could absolutely win people over to the cause or transparency. There are no legitimate constituencies for crony capitalism and plutocracy.
Protests can succeed because Trump remains extremely unpopular. His unfavorable ratings are incredibly high for a president-elect.
Post-election analysis indicates many people voted for him not because they liked him, but because they were voting against Hillary Clinton and the perception that she was part of the corrupt system that had failed them.
Many mainstream Republicans and moderate voters chose him thinking he was better than the alternative. But now that it’s not a choice between two unpopular candidates, Trump has to overcome skepticism about his ability to manage the toughest job in the world for the benefit of the country.
And there is plenty of evidence of Trump’s massive corruption-laden conflicts of interest.
So any movement that successfully invites rational criticism of Trump practices and policies already has a willing audience. The key is to make the broadest possible appeal, and not turn off potential supporters and allies. Now is the time to insist on the highest standards of the office.
If you believe that President Trump is an unprecedented threat to American values, protesters should show that they are the ones upholding the symbols and true values of America that make America great.