Democracy of liberty, laws need protection


“’The View’ does nothing but bash President Trump and should be canceled! Share if you agree!”

This was on my Facebook feed, posted by one of the nicest ladies I’ve ever known. I don’t think she realized by posting this she was bashing the First Amendment.

At best, the originators of this post, “We Love President Donald J. Trump,” are angry and ignorant of the protections guaranteed in our Constitution by the First Amendment. At worst, they knowingly used this post to normalize chipping away our free speech rights by ingraining that mentality into our consciousness.

Either way, I’m not a fan of the post or the way the current president blasts free speech and the media.

As a refresher, here is what the First Amendment guarantees: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Annenberg Public Policy Center states, “More than a third of those [Americans] surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. … Contrary to the First Amendment, 39 percent of Americans support allowing Congress to stop the news media from reporting on any issue of national security without government approval.”

And, clearly, there are those who would cancel shows simply because they don’t like the messaging. My advice: stop watching if you don’t like it.

Fareed Zakaria of CNN’s “Global Public Square” states, “It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices — democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.”

What, you may wonder, is liberal democracy? According to Zakaria, “In the West, these two traditions — liberty and law on the one hand [think the First Amendment], and popular participation [think voting and cultural norms] on the other — became intertwined, creating what we call liberal democracy.”

Some cultural norms that have sustained our democracy in the past include civil discourse, the ability to compromise in Congress without reprisal and a presidential candidate releasing his/her tax returns.

As these norms become undone, the United States turns from liberal democracy to illiberal democracy, characterized by Congress ceding power to the presidency; passage of the Patriot Act in its first incarnation, allowing massive overreach of government spying on its own citizens; derision of the media, of which some is certainly deserved, but not in a constant drumbeat from the leader of the free world.

The media are, after all, the Fourth Estate of our democracy. They safeguards it, as do “watchdogs” from either political spectrum.

These groups, along with non-profits, service clubs, professional clubs — in short, non-governmental entities — as envisioned by the Founding Fathers would counter-balance what could be the excesses of the government and of the majority opinion. Everyone would have the right to find and use their voice. And everyone would be protected under the law, even the minority. Even those critical of the government.

In previous administrations, I don’t recall a single call to cancel a show or network that criticized the president. People may have been discouraged from watching these shows or networks, but the fundamental right of these shows and networks to exist was respected. As was the fundamental right to make redress against our leaders.

Please be careful sharing items that would undermine our fragile, fragile democracy. We are in a time of such political crisis, we don’t need fuel added to the fire. Think Constitution, not propaganda.

Donna Steele, a retired educator, hails from Alabama and made Hancock County her home in 2011. She can be reached at [email protected]