By Crystal Defatte
We are living in a time of turmoil since the election. Protests have sprung up in every major city and a few smaller ones too. Those protesting are doing so because they are afraid for the rights and safety of women, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, religious minorities, and just about everyone who isn’t a straight, cisgendered, white male. Many on the right dismiss these protests as nothing more than the losing side whining, but what they don’t realize is even they should be concerned about losing their most basic rights under President Trump’s war on the constitution.
First They Came for the Journalists
The first amendment guarantees the right to the freedoms of speech, press, and religion, as well as protecting the right to petition the government. In February of this year, Trump stated:
“One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
The Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, settled in 1964, ruled that public persons, such as politicians, can win a suit against a media organization only if the person can prove that the publication published information with actual malice, knowing it to be wholly incorrect, as well as in cases of reckless disregard. Trying to open up libel laws further would mean rendering journalists impotent because no matter how good the source, there would always be the risk of a story proving false, regardless of the wealth of evidence. Any story that could be perceived as portraying a public official in a negative light would be opening a journalist up to litigation, effectively silencing the press and gutting the protection granted to them under the first amendment. This would mean we the people would lack important information pertaining to our highest elected officials; information that the founding fathers believed we the people had an inalienable right to.
Then They Came for the Muslims
During an interview by Joe Scarborough on his MSNBC show, Morning Joe, Scarborough asked if a Trump administration would consider shutting down mosques in this country. Trump responded with, “I would hate to do it but it would be something that you’re going to have strongly consider because some of the ideas, some of the hatred—the absolute hatred—is coming from these areas.”. This should terrify all Americans, because when you set the precedence that the president can shut down a place of worship, you are opening the door to any and all places of worship being shut down by a future president. The religious right already feels like they are under attack, Trump would ensure that they may actually fall under attack in the future.
The fourth amendment says that citizens cannot be forced to subject themselves to seizure and search without a search warrant and probable cause. In November of 2015 at a rally in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala., Trump stated:
“I want surveillance of certain mosques, O.K.?” (Haberman) Later that same month, Trump told Yahoo News that, “We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” he told Yahoo News. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.” (Mark and Diamond)
The Patriot Act already allows for National Security Letters, which are demand letters issued to a particular entity or organization to turn over various records and data pertaining to individuals. They require no probable cause or judicial oversight and also contain a gag order, preventing the recipient of the letter from disclosing that the letter was ever issued. This is already an affront to the fourth amendment rights of Muslims, and if we take Trump at his word that he’ll go even farther, the fourth amendment would go completely out the window.
Then They Came for the Women and LGBTQ+ Community
The ninth amendment is “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” This means that there are other rights that may exist aside from the ones explicitly mentioned, and even though they are not listed, it does not mean they can be violated. Women were granted the right to an abortion through the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, yet In 2015, Trump said he was pro-life, with certain exceptions — in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother was at risk. In July of that year, he said he supported a 20-week ban. Trump indicated he’d be committed to appointing justices who want to change the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling affirming abortion rights. (de Vogue) Trump indicated he’s “fine” with the high court’s opinion legalizing same-sex marriage and called it “settled” (de Vogue), but there is room for skepticism considering his choice of VP, Pence, who is notorious for his anti LGBTQ+ stances. Since the right to an abortion and the right for homosexuals to marry in any state that issues marriage licenses to heterosexual couples have already been established and upheld by the Supreme Court, any action to take away these rights can be seen as infringing upon the ninth amendment.
These are just the few rights we know Trump has plans to erode, without even going into his supporters call to end the nineteenth amendment that granted women the right to vote, or his obvious disdain for the sixteenth amendment which grants the federal government the right to impose income tax.
Then They Came for Me
We have already allowed ourselves to dive into some very dangerous waters. Jeremy Scahill was not wrong when he stated:
“And the fact is that when you when you empower The White House in the way that the Democrats did through their silence or their support of horrid violent policies under Obama, you then continue the game forward so that whoever comes next starts from that point and not from sort of a baseline debate about what’s constitutional. You know there was this sort of flurry of activity over the past year where people were saying Obama is trying to put in place these rules for his drone program so that the next person elected—no, you have already stated publicly that you have a right to kill American citizens who have not been charged with crimes. You’ve maintained secret kill lists. The CIA has a kill list, the military has a kill list, the National Security Council has a kill list, and now Donald Trump is going to be in charge of a kill list. And how can you then go back and say, ‘Oh we don’t want Trump to be in charge of these things!’ when you accepted it for partisan reasons from your own person?” (Reed, Scahill and Greenwald)
It would be almost impossible remove those powers, no matter how unconstitutional or immoral they may be, now that they have already been granted.
Which brings us to the “slippery slope” argument the right likes to use, and it is completely valid. When you eat away at rights you open the door for more erosion until there is nothing left. If we allow even the slightest infringement upon these rights for any group of people we place ourselves at the top of that slippery slope that leads to these rights being taken away for all people. We cannot allow ourselves to ignore these alarming plans for subsets of the population just because it might not affect us directly at this moment in time.
So what do we do to combat this? Call your congressional representatives at the first sign of an attack on the constitutional rights of others. Emily Ellsworth, a Salt Lake City-based writer and editor who worked for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah acted as a liaison for people and the federal agencies. In a series of tweets, she stated:
“First, tweeting or writing on Facebook is largely ineffective. I never looked at those comments except to remove the harassing ones. Second, writing a letter to the district office (state) is better than sending an email or writing a letter to DC. But, the most effective thing is to actually call them on the phone. At their district (state) office. They have to talk to you there. We repped half a million people, it was impossible to read and respond personally to all letters. Impossible. This was something in particular that I cared about as a staffer and worked very hard on, but the sheer volume of emails is overwhelming. So, we batched them with computer algorithms and sent out form letters based on topic and position. Regardless of method received. But, phone calls! That was a thing that shook up our office from time. One time, a radio host gave out our district office phone # on air. He was against our immigration policy and told our constituents to call. And they did. All. Day. Long. All I did all day was answer phones. It was exhausting and you can bet my bosses heard about it. We had discussions because of that call to action. If we started getting a pattern of calls, I called up our DC office and asked if they were getting the same calls and we talked. Also, recognize that your letters and your emails get seen by staffers, just like your phone calls get answered. That’s the way of it. If you want to talk to your rep, show up at town hall meetings. Get a huge group that they can’t ignore. Pack that place and ask questions. We held town halls consistently that fewer than 50 people showed up for. And it was always the same people. So, shake it up.” (Tongco)
There you have it folks, right or left, male or female, minority or not, shake things up. Contact your legislators, because when they know there is a public outcry and reelection bids could be lost, they generally listen a lot harder. Shake things up because the America we know and love (despite her many flaws) could very well be under attack. Shake things up because it is our patriotic duty to act as the last line of defense against tyranny. Shake. Things. Up.
de Vogue, Ariane. CNN Politics. 14 November 2016. 14 November 2016 <http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/14/politics/trump-gay-marriage-abortion-supreme-court/index.html>.
Haberman, Maggie. New York Times. 21 November 2015. 14 November 2016 <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/us/politics/donald-trump-syrian-muslims-surveillance.html?_r=0>.
Mark, David and Jeremy Diamond. CNN. 21 November 2015. 14 November 2016 <http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/21/politics/trump-muslims-surveillance/index.html>.
Reed, Betsy, Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald. The Intercept. 12 November 2016. 14 November 2016 <https://theintercept.com/2016/11/12/dissecting-a-trump-presidency/>.
Tongco, Tricia. attn:. 13 November 2016. 14 November 2016 <http://www.attn.com/stories/12768/former-congressional-staffer-explains-how-to-make-congressman-listen?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=internal>.