Gagging the president
The United States was founded on several principles that help make our nation free. One of the most important principles that we hold as a nation is that we have an inherent right to speak freely in public forums, a right enshrined in the First Amendment. The amendment protects all legal speech, especially political speech. Citizens and politicians alike share this freedom because it is essential for a functioning democracy. However, twice in our history, presidents were silenced for voicing their views on political matters.
John Quincy Adams and Donald Trump share a peculiar similarity. They were the only American presidents whom the political opposition censored. After Adams left office in 1829, he successfully ran for the House of Representatives in 1830.
While in Congress, Adams fiercely opposed slavery, an issue that eventually seemed to become intertwined with every issue America faced. Like his father, John Adams, Adams believed that slavery was an evil practice, and he regularly spoke out against it.
In 1836, Southern congressional Democrats passed a rule banning all speech related to slavery in front of the House. In the wake of this rule, Adams asked, "Am I gagged or am I not?" The gag rule stayed in effect until 1844 when Adams passed a motion to rescind this ruling.
Similarly, Trump has been censored by the immensely powerful pro-Democrat and pro-Chinese social media. After Biden was declared the victor in the 2020 presidential election, many in the mainstream media and social media asserted that anyone who questioned the outcome of the election was a threat to democracy.
Those who noted several unusual things about the election had to be silenced. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter removed actual evidence of voter fraud from their platforms. YouTube deleted videos showing anything that challenged the election (e.g., poll-watchers being locked out of voting areas and poll-watchers filling out voting cards). Videos that stayed up were "fact-checked." The "fact-checkers" relentlessly claimed that this was a fair election.
In the lead-up to the Senate's certifying the election, President Trump called on his supporters to peacefully protest the results of the election. When the Senate met to certify the vote on January 6, the Capitol Police let Trump supporters into the Capitol. At the end of the day, a federal employee had murdered Ashli Babbitt, and multiple police officers had been injured.
The left and mainstream media spun this event as an insurrection with Trump blamed for inciting the violence. Congress impeached him, and Twitter, Facebook, and several other social media websites removed him from their platforms. Since then, Democrats in politics and the media have spun the "insurrection" as the most violent attack in America since 9/11 or even the Civil War, despite a summer of violence by leftist groups.
Since his ban, Trump has relied on statements from his office, interviews, and Rumble to reach the public. This significantly diminished his reach. Like Adams, Trump was gagged. Trump is no longer able to share his views on major political issues as he once did. When he was on Twitter, he was able to communicate instantly with his followers. He reached billions of people in a few minutes. Now far fewer people read his statements.
As in 1836, political opponents silenced a former president from speaking in a public space. These leaders were gagged because of their political views. By censoring these leaders, their followers were also silenced. In both cases, this censorship escalated political division.
Trump recently sued Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and their CEOs. Because the defendants haven't even answered, we don't yet know what effect this lawsuit will have or even if the courts will allow it to go forward.
Near the end of his life and while still in Congress, Adams gave one of the most famous speeches of his political career. Speaking to Congress, he said the federal government — indeed, the president — must emancipate slaves. Otherwise, he predicted a bloody civil war pitting north against south. Representative Abraham Lincoln heard the speech, which inspired his Emancipation Proclamation.
We are currently at another crossroads as a country. Will we continue to allow social media platforms to censor speech? Will half the country continue to be gagged? Leaving this issue unaddressed can lead to our republic's destruction. Wise leaders will act now.
A free society requires the free exchange of ideas. Because social media positioned itself as the new public square, people must be able to voice their political views without fear of being banned. Ideas should be debated to determine which ones prevail. Without free speech, it is impossible to have a free society.
As a society founded on the principles of freedom, let's hope we can return to a day when people are freely able to voice their views.
Edward Kennelly is a graduate student at the University of Memphis studying public administration. He will be starting law school in the fall. He has worked on several statewide and local races. His works appear in the California Political Review and Citizens Journal. He hopes to continue working in politics.
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