President-elect Donald Trump announced Tuesday morning that he’d like to see people who burn the American flag lose U.S. citizenship or be thrown in jail. But no matter how distasteful some may find flag burning, it’s still free speech protected by the U.S. Constitution.
And so it should remain.
America’s founding fathers wrote the American Constitution and Bill of Rights to highlight the value of individual liberty over the love of country for good reason. Most simply, because they knew that blind nationalism was little more than a tool that tyrants use to make populations act against their own self interests.
So Trump is dead wrong when he says: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Everyone should be allowed to burn the American flag—but if government is doing its job of promoting liberty, protecting the borders and otherwise leaving Americans alone, no one should want to.
When a country seeks to limit the ways in which its population is legally allowed to peacefully protest government actions, its leaders are guilty of fascism.
Speaking of fascists, Trump’s proposal that flag burners be punished by the force of government directly mirrors legislation introduced by former Sens. Hillary Clinton and Robert Bennet in 2005.
The Congressional Research Service summarized the bill thusly:
Amends the federal criminal code to revise provisions regarding desecration of the flag to prohibit: (1) destroying or damaging a U.S. flag with the primary purpose and intent to incite or produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace; or (2) stealing or knowingly converting the use of a U.S. flag either belonging to the United States or on lands reserved for the United States and intentionally destroying or damaging that flag.
At least, however, that bill would have only punished flag destruction when things that are already crimes happened alongside the destruction: deliberately inciting violence or theft of government property.
Many Trump supporters are applauding his Tuesday remarks— but true conservatives and small government advocates are not.
GOP Rep. Justin Amash hit back at Trump via Twitter, saying: “Nobody should burn the American flag, but our Constitution secures our right to do so. No president is allowed to burn the First Amendment.”
Trump’s remarks do, however, offer a good opportunity for civil libertarians on the left and the right to join forces over the next four years to beat back presidential overreach which has gone largely unchecked by at least half of the nation’s population over the past two presidential administrations.