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Free Speech in the Age of Trump

By ,

“Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution?”

That’s the question Khizr Khan—whose son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, 27, died from a suicide bombing in Baghdad 12 years ago—asked of Donald Trump.

I’d like to pose that same question to the critics of Colin Kaepernick, who want the NFL to sanction him for his refusal to stand during the national anthem; or those who are offended by chants of Black Lives Matter; or proclamations of Black Girl Magic; or the critics of Jesse Williams, who petitioned to have him fired after he used his speech at the BET awards to decry the deaths of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland.

Or to police officers so offended by Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance that they threatened to refuse to provide security at future concerts. Or to Donald Trump, who believes that it should be easier to sue journalists for libel. “We’re going to have people sue you like you never got sued before,” he threatened.

Or to those eager to Take America Back, Make America Great Again and find everything the 44th president says offensive, including the words “and” and “the.”

Like Mr. Khan, I would gladly lend you my copy of the Constitution. But in the meantime, here’s my pragmatic take on the First Amendment and our right to free speech.

Free speech means that Colin Kaepernick can protest and so can the people who disagree with him.

Free speech allows Stacey Dash to utter vapid opinions every time she blinks. And it also permits Black Twitter to issue a rhetorical take down in the flash of a #hashtag.

Free speech gives David Duke the right to profess his love for Donald Trump and for Trump to claim he doesn’t know David Duke.

Free speech gives Jesse Williams license to speak openly and bluntly about police violence and allows those who oppose his views to petition to have him fired.

Free speech means that Donald Trump gets to air his repellent, bigoted, misogynistic and xenophobic views. It also means people can come to his rallies and protest those views; journalists can report on Trump’s ugly views without being sued for libel; and Hillary Clinton can label those views deplorable.

In this election season of discontent, it’s easy to lose sight of how precious our right to free speech is—especially when we enter the fact-free zone and sniff the noxious fumes coming from white supremacists and the “alt right.” But there’s a reason the First Amendment is first––because the guarantee of free speech is essential to winning and keeping our democracy.

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