On November 11, 2016, just two days after he defeated Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, President Elect Donald Trump was back at making controversial Tweets:
“Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!”
Clearly, to brand the thousands of protesters who are filling the streets of a number of cities across the nation in protest of Trump's election as “professional protesters” defies rationality and evidence. But this may portend an even deeper problem at the heart of what it means to be an American. In the United States there is a First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and it appears that those who are now protesting across the nation are doing so peacefully. This is not “Very unfair!” It is what makes America a free nation. The President-Elect of the United States should emotionally and intellectually appreciate this.
Further, the First Amendment recognizes freedom of the press, which means that the media has a charge to keep our politicians honest—to hold their feet to the fire. This means that it has a constitutionally protected right to take to task government officials, especially those who wield great power such as the president.
It should give us all pause to hear what President Elect Trump once had to say about how protesters should be handled by a strong leader. In 1990, in a Playboy Interview, Trump stated
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world—“
In this tragic event in 1989, the Chinese government put down a peaceful student protest by bringing in tanks that rolled over and crushed the students who were protesting for human rights. Subsequently, the Chinese government denied that the Tiananmen Square massacre ever happened. And, images and discussions of the event have been blocked from local search engines. Some terms connected to the event, including the term “democracy,” have also been blocked.
When Trump assumes the Presidency, is he going to deal with public dissent in the way China dealt with the students in Tiananmen Square? Is his approach to a free press going to be one in which events adverse to his administration are also censored?
This, of course, remains to be seen; however, words are often indicators of deeds, and the words in question are especially troublesome coming from the leader to be of the free world.