It’s unclear why, as of yet, but on Tuesday morning, President-elect Donald Trump woke up and at 6:55 a.m. decided he needed to tweet: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Deep breaths, everyone. Deep breaths.
In a year defined by unexpected and unimaginable conversations about everything from grabbing women to repealing the 14th Amendment, I suppose it isn’t too much to throw in a completely gratuitous debate about flag-burning, upheld twice by the Supreme Court.
Trump’s tweet-fart was met with predictable — and well-deserved — scorn and ridicule from liberals and conservatives alike. That’s because it’s stunningly surreal and terrifying to know that the next president of the United States has so little affection for the Constitution — the thing he’ll pledge to uphold in January — that he’s suggesting we do away with the very first right its Bill of Rights protects.
It’s also troubling that Trump doesn’t seem to know or care that even if flag-burning were made illegal, it couldn’t be used as grounds for revoking someone’s citizenship. It’s not a country club membership that’s his to award or deny.
Maybe worst, though, is Trump’s default impulse to punish people who disagree with him. Whether that’s suing journalists, banning members of the press from covering him, ousting political leaders from their posts, outlawing Muslims or jailing flag-burners, it’s clear that in Trump’s America, it’s his way or no way.
Unsurprisingly, the flag-burning ban is being defended by people who know better. Jason Miller, Trump’s transition team communication director, leapt onto CNN to offer his lobotomized support: “It absolutely should be illegal,” he declared to Chris Cuomo, who responded, “It is a protected Constitutional right — can we agree on that?”
“No, we completely disagree,” Miller replied.
Miller, to be clear, has been a chief of staff for a member of Congress and, of all people, Ted “Constitution” Cruz’s senior communications advisor. He has got to know knows how dumb this sounds.
Radio host and Trump supporter Wayne Dupree tweeted: “Why are liberals getting angry over this? If you burn US flag, you don’t want to be an American anyway.”
The irony of a member of the media cheerleading what would be a ban on free speech is truly chilling.
These folks — and Trump especially — may want to read up on what their favorite Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, had to say about this very matter. What would Trump say, for example, if he found out that Scalia said of flag-burning, “I mean, that was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”
One also wonders if Trump is aware that many prominent veterans’ groups have historically opposed a ban on flag-burning. Between 1995 and 2006, Congress made multiple attempts to amend the Constitution to ban the practice. Each was defeated, and prompted staunch resistance from countless high-profile vets. Colin Powell, for one, said, “I would not amend that great shield of democracy to hammer a few miscreants. The flag will still be flying proudly long after they have slunk away.”
Former Sen. John Glenn also opposed it, saying “the dangers from [banning flag-burning] far outweigh the threat that we have to the flag.”
As despicable as flag-burning is, veterans especially know that what they fought for was this right to free speech. But Trump would apparently wish America to become more like Cuba, China and Iran, brutal dictatorships he has continually villainized, where flag-burning is outlawed.
Ironically, progressive political correctness may have unwittingly opened a door it likely never meant to.
Recently Hampshire College, a small private college in Massachusetts, got attention for a fight over the American flag on its main flagpole. In the wake of the election, students have lowered the flag to half-staff, burned it, replaced it and then removed it altogether.
In the words of college president Jonathan Lash, some viewed the flag as “a powerful symbol of fear they’ve felt all their lives because they grew up in marginalized communities, never feeling safe.”
If the progressive impulse is to remove or destroy iconography it finds offensive from sensitive eyes and create “safe spaces” in which potentially controversial ideas are silenced from sensitive ears, then the equally extreme and absurd response may just be to make that illegal, as Trump is proposing. The truth is, neither hiding flags nor punishing people who burn them are civically responsible, never mind productive uses of personal or institutional resources.
We don’t know what motivates Trump to do most of what he does, including this. But what we do know is that he will need serious checks and balances on his agenda — and maybe a pocket Constitution.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com
This column originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
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