The Supreme Court decided in Texas v. Johnson that burning the American flag, no matter how distasteful, is constitutionally protected free speech. The decision was not unanimous. In fact, it was a 5-4 decision and one of those siding with the majority was the late Antonin Scalia.
Scalia, like many people, loathes flag burning. He often said of flag burners, “If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag. But I am not king.”
Somebody should tell Donald Trump. The President-elect, tweeted the following:
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2016
Once this tweet went out, people responded by pointing to the Supreme Court decision, the first amendment in general and the absurdity of stripping people of their citizenship for burning a flag.
Others are going the route of pretending this is Trump playing the media. “Haha! He’s trolling the media, and the suckers are falling for it! Watch now as Trump supporters laugh at the elitists!”
This is a silly and juvenile argument to make. The presidential campaign is over. Donald Trump is going to be the next President of the United States. And journalists (both reporters and opinion journalists) should be expected to ignore what he says or just let it go? That’s absurd. Another thing to keep in mind is Trump’s most fervent supporters will agree with him. So to dismiss what Trump says as mere trolling is a mistake.
Opposition to flag burning enjoys widespread support across the United States. Due to the Supreme Court decision, it would take a constitutional amendment to make it illegal. It wasn’t long ago that Mitch McConnell cast the deciding vote that prevented an amendment from going to the states for ratification.
The political makeup of Congress has changed in that you’d be hard-pressed to find enough Democrats to get a 2/3 majority to send an amendment to the states, so this is a non-starter. Still, Donald Trump is no longer the reality show host running for President or even the GOP nominee. He is the President-Elect and will be the President in less than two months.
Trump’s words (and tweets) demand more careful consideration now that he will be the leader of the free world. When he sends out tweets where he is suggesting people should lose their citizenship for engaging in what the Supreme Court says is protected free speech, the media has a duty and responsibility to cover it, regardless of how Trump’s supporters see it.