US President Donald Trump’s disregard for the First Amendment has long been evident. Consider the multiple freedoms the amendment enshrines and protects, and Trump’s demonstrated hostility toward them. Religion: During the campaign, Trump called for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Assembly: Trump has suggested deporting NFL players who peacefully protest by kneeling during the national anthem.
But arguably the most important First Amendment right – indeed, the most important right in any democracy – is freedom of speech, because it underlies every other rights. Once Trump starts messing with speech rights, all American are potential targets.
This is why emerging details about the nondisclosure agreements that Trump has made underlings sign are so disturbing. The Trump NDAs reportedly contain language seeking to bar ex-staffers from saying anything negative about Trump, ever. That these agreements are likely unenforceable is beside the point; the intimidation factor alone chips away at a pillar of American democracy. Nondisclosure agreements should be prohibited in government, aside from existing ones that make it illegal to disclose classified information.
Trump said during the campaign that he supports making federal employees sign NDAs. This wasn’t in the context of security but ego. “When people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels,” Trump told The Washington Post in 2016, “and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that.”
Maybe Trump missed a memo, but “I don’t like that” isn’t grounds for suppressing speech in America. Only an insecure, thin-skinned person goes to such extremes to stifle criticism.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump insisted his staff sign NDAs promising not to “demean or disparage” him publicly, in perpetuity – which he appears to interpret as being applicable even in noncampaign contexts. So not only can they not talk about what happened behind the scenes during the campaign, they also can’t talk critically about Trump today, as president.
Among the signers was Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former reality TV star who was fired as a White House aide in December. She’s back in the news with an unflattering book about her old boss.
In response, Trump’s campaign this week filed an arbitration action against her. To be clear, the filing doesn’t challenge the book’s accuracy or make a libel argument; it argues that she’s not allowed to write disparaging things because of the agreement. This is, literally, the president of the United States arguing that an American has signed away, for life, her freedom of speech as it relates to him.
No court should allow that to happen, ever. Congress should take action to ensure that it doesn’t. – Tribune News Service
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