Beware the Target on the First Amendment

Beware the Target on the First Amendment

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

Much has been made during the presidential campaign about the Second Amendment.

Donald Trump presents himself as the National Rifle Association’s best friend and wants us to believe that Hillary Clinton aims to abolish the Second Amendment.

Clinton wants us to see her as the hero of common sense, intending to appoint Supreme Court justices who would protect us from guns without abridging the Second Amendment, while she portrays Trump’s America the Wild West on full auto (at least until he gets an itchy nuclear trigger finger).

It’s all nonsense.

To judge from Clinton’s vow to pick Supreme Court justices who will represent the people and stand up to the powerful — which is the role of the Supreme Court only if you define “the powerful” as elected officials — and her misleading focus on a Supreme Court decision from almost a decade ago, you’d think that we’re just a liberal justice or two from preventing massacres like Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Orlando.

Two problems with that narrative:

  • No gun control measures proposed since Sandy Hook would have prevented any mass shooting.
  • The Supreme Court isn’t standing in the way of restricting sales online or at gun shows, nor are the justices preventing broader use of background checks or an effort to define and ban “assault weapons.”

For now and the foreseeable future, gun laws are a legislative problem, and there’s no sign of Congress or any state legislature enacting anything undermining the Second Amendment.

Unfortunately, part of the Bill of Rights is in peril from both major-party candidates: some of our most fundamental rights in the First Amendment.

Trump threatens the freedom of the press — particularly to those of us in the media who are Jewish.

The Anti-Defamation League released a study Oct. 19 on anti-Semitic hate hurled at journalists on Twitter and found that more than 2.6 million tweets containing anti-Semitic language were sent between Aug. 1, 2015, and July 31, 2016. Those tweets scrolled through Twitter users’ feeds an estimated 10 billion times in that year, contributing to the ugly normalization of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel extremism on social media.

The real numbers are likely much worse because the ADL’s keyword methodology didn’t catch all the coded language and images.

Out of 313 million Twitter accounts, the ADL focused on 50,000 journalists and found that they — actually, just 800 of them — received more than 19,000 of the anti-Semitic tweets, most originating from just 1,600 accounts. And most of those accounts either identified themselves as Trump supporters or were part of the alt-right movement, which Trump, intentionally or not, has unleashed.

The 10 most targeted journalists, all of them Jewish, received 83 percent of the anti-Semitic tweets.

All of that reflects the intimidation and incitement to violence journalists could expect if Trump, who has expressed hatred for the press, is elected.

Trump also offers a legal danger through his goal to overturn American libel law to put the burden of proof on the defendant.

As scary as Trump would be for freedom of the press, however, Clinton would be just as frightening for freedom of speech.

It took her less than a minute at the third debate to launch her familiar attack on the Citizens United decision, which at its core is not about the rights of corporations or the amount of money in elections but about freedom of political speech — the most fundamental form of free speech in a democratic system.

Clinton, unfortunately, is not alone in her dislike for Citizens United, but while most of those opponents are motivated by a belief in campaign finance reform, I suspect Clinton of wanting to rein in the First Amendment just as she wants “common-sense” limits on the Second Amendment.

It’s too much to expect an actual advocate of open government to rise to the pinnacle of American politics, but I’m hopeful that a true believer in the First Amendment will emerge from the next generation of politicians. Ultimately, nothing is more important to America’s future.

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