Free speech and Frederica's hat
Conservatives looking for retribution after losing access to social media now have an unlikely champion: Rep. Frederica Wilson.
You may remember Wilson from her revealing a private conservation between Donald Trump and a Gold Star family. Or you might recall her spat with the former White House chief of staff, John Kelly, who put paid to her claim of securing funding for an FBI building, all while implying she's mooncalf. Mostly, though, the south Florida pol is known for her ostentatious dress, typified by a bedazzled ten-gallon hat, even when she appears on national television.
Wittingly or not, Rep. Wilson has proposed a sweeping proscription for online gadflies, scamps, and irritating kochleffels who have the temerity, the gross audacity, really, to offend congressional lawmakers. "Those people who are online making fun of members of Congress are a disgrace, and there is no need for anyone to think that is unacceptable [sic]," Wilson propounded, forgetting that English doesn't brook dangling modifiers. "We're going to shut them down and work with whoever it is to shut them down, and they should be prosecuted."
You have to admire Wilson's unlettered understanding of our common language. Whom, exactly, will she be working with to shut down congressional critics? Facebook executives? Twitter CEO and chakra enthusiast Jack Dorsey, who habitually appears frowzy and zonked out on ayahuasca in public? Perhaps the dozen or so izba-dwellers who maxed out their Sberbank debit cards on anti-Hillary Facebook ads in 2016?
The "they" in Wilson's formulation is also ambiguous, giving her hypothetical law wide latitude for enforcement. Ordinarily, this type of omission comes ripe for abuse, leading to wide, indiscriminate prosecution. But in this instance, it could provide a nuisance to the Trump-adverse media who wage campaigns of non-access for heterodox political thinkers.
Think about it: where is there the most sustained criticism of the president? Twitter, obviously, which is a playground for prating journalists to wildly speculate about Trump's criminality while advocating for digital bans behind dimly lit screens.
After all, if the public is banned from traducing congressional lawmakers, wouldn't the same protections apply to the president? He is an elected official, too.
Overnight, Wilson's proposition could cut guttersnipe journalists off from their favorite snark-sharing tool. As Rusty Reno points out, the media's vernacular has an undue effect on the public discourse. Denying the press its blue bird-embossed group chat could bring some relief and sanity back to our collective thought process. That, in and of itself, elevates Wilson's policy from vindictive persecution to the highest form of the public good.
The first person to be targeted under Rep. Wilson's law is, hilariously, herself. Not even a full week before holding forth with her proposal to put a scold's bridle on Twitter iconoclasts, Wilson posted a meme depicting Trump as an endomorphic child in the protective care of Mitch McConnell. I assume Wilson will turn herself over to the House sergeant-at-arms upon her own law going into effect.
All kidding aside, the foolishness of Wilson's petty proposal can't be overstated. It's blatantly unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds alone. It's also revealing of Wilson's thin skin: the prospect that someone, somewhere, is posting something disparaging about her is now cause for national censorship. The residents of Florida's Twenty-Fourth Congressional District should be ashamed someone so morally diminutive represents them in Congress.
Wilson's proposal, constitutionally odious as it may be, isn't all that novel. Presidents, from Wilson to Lincoln, forcefully muted their media critics in the past, particularly during times of war. Even Trump has mused at times about revoking press credentials from adversarial (read: pain-in-the-prat) journalists.
Tempting as an imposed period of mutism on the press would be, and as karmic it would be for conservatives already barred from social media, the dragnet would sweep up your aunt in Tuscaloosa posting Facebook memes about Nancy Pelosi's unconfirmed dementia. And America can hardly be called America if we aren't free to post Microsoft Paint–generated graphics depicting our leaders as walleyed, florid-faced imbeciles. Insulting politicians is in America's blood. The congenital condition dates back to the country's beginning, with Thomas Jefferson hiring a pamphleteer to describe John Adams as "a hideous hermaphroditical character."
For Wilson to get her way would mean the end of the online independent media. Much as I'd like to see Twitter-verified journalists get a piece of binary-coded duct tape slapped over their gaping maws, it's better, in the end, to keep the irreverent memes.
They were the deciding factor in the last election, after all.