Presidents have always used their position as head of state to excoriate enemies and pursue political agendas. Rival contenders for the office have called each other repugnant names on the campaign trail, and beyond. It’s a fact that every President has the same rights to free speech that are guaranteed all citizens, though his speech will be more closely scrutinized for tone and content. It’s in the nature of the job, a heat in the kitchen thing. It looks a lot, however, like this President is afraid of the stove because whenever it’s turned up he howls and attacks others who’re saying things he doesn’t like, right or wrong.
When Donald Trump called people names on the campaign trail it was distasteful but permissible. When Trump, the President, said a news talk show host was a surgical bleeder, and her fiance an idiot, it was ugly and unbefitting. This recent outburst led his opponents to claim, again, that the President is unsuitably contained and personally reckless. Others think it a magician’s sleight of tongue, a distraction from other agendas.
In the case of a sitting President, despite surrogates’ wishful claims, a different standard of speech is expected, not from the man, but on account of the high office. Lyndon Johnson violated all unwritten standards when he whipped out his johnson in reply to a reporter’s hostile questions. Nixon violated it by lying and scheming about how to cover-up Watergate.
Words are important because Presidents declare war, affect everyday lives, and control how we feel about ourselves. That isn’t very good right about now, and ever since Trump won the big election. Most people were reasonably content after Obama’s two terms in office, but are now miserable, or should be, as we were told by the President in his apocalyptic inaugural.
What Trump fails to understanding about the right to free speech, including dissent, is that the same Constitution that protects his expression, however crude, applies equally to the press. If the President wants the freedom to say whatever he wants, he must accept that the press has rights, too. There’s good reason for this.
The press exposes lies, government corruption, and unsafe practices. It, also, informs the public about issue of common interest and is a vehicle for diverging opinions. If you want Fox News you have to accept MSNC. A vibrant press is what keeps us free from forces that wish to discourage public debate in service of unvetted policy, and takes to task powers wishing to deceive. The President is wasting valuable time on petty feuds when he could be shaping the world. Sad!
On July 4, 1970, YIPPIES, the term for members of the short-lived Youth International Party, staged a Washington D.C. Marijuana smoke-in. The Party was famous for orchestrating other outrageous stunts, including the one in which members processed naked through a black tie Republican dinner led by a zoftig woman carrying a pig’s head on a sterling silver platter. The breach of decorum, and trespass, grabbed headlines and some papers ran nudity on their front page for the first time. The protesters got tossed but succeeded in creating a hostile discussion, on both sides, about political parties, their intended result.
YIPPIES bedeviled Democrats, too, most notably at the 1968 Democratic convention that devolved into a massive, pitched street battle between the Chicago Police Department and youthful protestors. There were injuries. That demonstration was orchestrated by, among others, YIPPIE co-founder Abbie Hoffman. In an amazing feat of lawyering all criminal convictions earned on account of the event were overturned on appeal and the protesters succeeded in dominating the news cycle for months.