You smell that — the smell of an American flag on fire?
As sweet as freedom is, it releases an acrid odor when in danger — sort of like a threatened skunk.
And freedom is, indeed, under threat. Sadly — worryingly — that threat comes from the very people who, one day, could be in charge of upholding our Constitution.
Now, lest you think this will be a ranting screed against presidential wannabes, it won’t.
Instead, consider this a user’s manual for a world that remains a possibility — an a priori analysis of America in the event certain candidates become the next resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, and in the end, it’s up to us to determine America’s future…
Shredding First Amendment Freedoms
Donald Trump has insisted that under his presidency the First Amendment is fair game. Like all of history’s demagogues, Mr. Trump aims to rewrite laws so that he can silence those who point out the flaws in his ideology or highlight his many life’s failures. In a Trump presidency, he has insisted, he will “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.”
To what end, though?
In a democracy, questioning any potential leader’s ideology or their capacity to run a country based on their own history of successes and failures is the pinnacle of necessity in a presidential campaign. Mr. Trump wishes to negate that and to effectively return America to a pre-1964 era, when libel and defamation were the province of state laws that only demanded a “preponderance of evidence” for a plaintiff to win. Because legal costs can be so expensive, such a standard effectively quashed the ability of anyone to criticize the rich and powerful who can throw around money and power to intimidate those who dare call them to task.
The Supreme Court recognized that weakness in New York Times v. Sullivan, writing that a strong democracy demands a “profound national commitment” to unfettered debate.
If, by way of example, I wish to say that Donald Trump’s idea to boycott Saudi oil displays the same business acumen as selling steaks (Trump Steaks) at an electronics store (Sharper Image), then the American freedoms we all cherish, according to the court, demand that I have that right — even if my attack is “vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp.”
I, nor any other critic, should be sued for simply questioning a potential leader’s ability — or the ability of anyone in the public light. Where would it end? Could J. Lo and Ben Affleck sue for libel because movie critics defamed their performance in the hideous waste of film known as Gigli? Why would unsavory restaurant reviews not open up a critic to legal action, even if a restaurateur with little skills sucks at cooking?
The Death of the Fourth Amendment
Or what to make of Senator Ted Cruz’s side-door attack on constitutional freedoms in response to the Brussels terror attack?
Said he in the wake of the airport and subway bombings: “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.”
His campaign team later added that as part of the empowerment plan, local police would “partner with non-radical Americans who want to protect their homes.”
It’s not exactly a frontal assault on Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, but it certainly skates along a thin border separating Cruz’s vision of a Gestapo-like organization patrolling American neighborhoods and our constitutional rights granting Americans “the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.”
Democracy frowns on Cruz’s ideology because it seeks to eradicate the personal liberties that served as a basis for America’s founding. It destroys the presumption of innocence that is the bedrock of our legal system. And it creates a Nazi-esque brigade of neighborhood tattlers touched by vigilantism who rob us of our freedoms without due process of the law.
Under Cruz’s vision, would we face a platoon of George Zimmermans patrolling our streets with short tempers, a fear-driven mentality and itchy trigger fingers? And, logically, why would we stop our search at radicalized Muslims? There are a number of radicalized Wonder Bread-white American groups — why should they escape suspicion?
Take Back Our Country
Back when I was young writer in Southern California, I had an editor who told me to be careful what I wished for because I just might get it. That’s the message I impart today. As Americans, we have to be careful what we wish for when it comes to our next president.
Yes, the last few presidents have been far less than what we might have hoped for in America. The last two, in particular, ran roughshod over the Constitution — George W.’s disregard for pretty much all the amendments between four and nine (due processes of law, speedy trials, unusual punishments, etc.); and Barak O.’s attack on the Second Amendment (bearing arms) as well as disdain for the constitutional directive that the American president “shall take care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”
But we must be careful about the devil we vote for next.
It’s easy to mouth off about Mexico and terrorism and China and the Saudis and Muslims and vigilantes patrolling the streets — particularly when you haven’t a clue about the impacts of your words, and you’re desperately pandering to a nation that is economically challenged and rightfully angry about the direction that politicians (and the lobbyists who control them) have steered us in the last three or four decades.
But we have to think about the real-world impact of presidential policy. Do you want to live in a country where vigilantes are deputized to stop and question you? Where the absence of First Amendment freedoms limits your access to truth or even what you can see on TV?
This is, after all, our country. Politicians do our bidding.
We have but a single means to preserve our liberties, without which we become little more than state property. Our vote is that means — it’s our voice.
But casting a vote in anger is the equivalent of investing based on fear or hot tips … it’s wasted effort.
Shame on us if we allow the next president to extend the streak of weakening our Constitution. We run this joint. The Constitution belongs to us. Let’s act like it means something when it comes time to vote for the person who’s supposed to uphold it.
Until next time…
Jeff D. Opdyke
Editor, Frontline Investor