The media as a whole (including the Internet) collectively freaked out this weekend about the President-Elect Donald Trump vs. Hamilton cast feud. While I think the issue may be a little overblown, it does bring up a consistent pattern that I have been seeing when it comes to Donald Trump and free speech.
The Hamilton Controversy
Over the weekend, Vice President-elect Mike Pence attended a performance of Hamilton. While taking his seat, the audience reacted to Pence’s presence with a mixture of cheers and boos. Then, at the end of the performance, the cast had a few words for Pence:
“We, sir – we – are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope that this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
The audience cheered and applauded the statement, but Trump was not as happy. In his characteristic way, Trump took to Twitter, saying that Pence had been “harassed” and demanding an apology:
The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has given his opponents names like Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas (Elizabeth Warren), and Crazy Bernie, and has criticized others like Jeb Bush, whom he called “low energy” and “a mess.” Clearly, Trump has no trouble dishing it out. But when he or his ally is criticized or called a name, he is not able to take it. He reacts in the fashion above, demanding apologies or lashing out with other verbal abuse.
Freedom of the Press
“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.”
There are some obvious concerns there, given the importance of free speech and freedom of the press in the history of the United States. While you can say that perhaps Trump only meant that citizens should have a right to sue newspapers for printing false stories, there is a greater concern felt by many in the press. A concern that Trump will strive to make it easier to sue newspapers in general, for any kind of negative stories. After all, Trump often likes to say criticisms of him are “wrong!” even when they are, in fact, true.
Free Speech as a Weapon
This is why I say that Donald Trump regards free speech as a weapon, not a right. He only cares about free speech when it applies to him. When others exercise their right to criticize him, he seeks to silence them. He wants to take their weapons away while continuing to wield his own.
Author’s note: On Fox News, Mike Pence issued a statement about the Hamilton controversy, saying that the boos and cheers that greeted him were “what freedom sounds like.” He also said that he wasn’t offended by the cast’s message at the end.
Image source: By Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Donald Trump) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.