A Letter to Trump
When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. —Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali (1913)
Dear Mr. Trump,
Forgive me for not addressing you as president but the words do not permit themselves to be formed when I think of that word and you. If you read my columns you have probably noticed that in order to overcome this shortcoming, I only refer to you as DJT. Notwithstanding my feelings, I have a suggestion I am imparting, because I think you would find it would eliminate the need for you, when attacking the press, to limit yourself to 140 characters. If you follow my suggestion, you will be able to bring the press to heel and free up your Twitter account for other kinds of ad hominem attacks that you so obviously enjoy.
I am writing to tell you that you are not the first ruler of a country to be troubled by a meddlesome press. You, of course, know that there are countries today ruled by friends of yours, like Vladimir Putin in Russia or Recep Erdogan in Turkey, who deal with a press they perceive to be hostile by imprisoning or arranging for their members to have unfortunate encounters. Although that is efficient, you probably realize that, in the United States today, that is not possible. What you are less likely to know, given your aversion to matters of substance, is that that was not always the case in the United States. Proof of that can be found in the Alien and Sedition Acts that were passed by Congress and signed into law by President John Adams in 1798. They comprised four laws, and you'd have loved each of them. The first was the Naturalization Act. Talk about a winner! That law made it harder for immigrants to become citizens, extending the time they had to live here in order to get citizenship, from five to fourteen years. Two other laws you would have liked were the Alien Friends Act, that gave the president authority to deport non-citizens the president thought were dangerous, and the Alien Enemy Act that permitted the president to deport non-citizens from hostile nations. Talk about "Making America Safe Again!"
But I'm not referring you to the Alien and Sedition Acts because of those laws. It's because of the Sedition Act of 1798. That Act criminalized speech. Fines and imprisonment could be used against those who "write, print, utter, or publish...any false, scandalous and malicious writing against the government of the United States or the President of the United States with intent to defame...or to bring them into contempt or disrepute." Talk about dealing with "fake news" purveyors without having to rely on a tweet. The most famous example of the application of this law can be found in the case of a sitting United States Congressman, Vermont Representative Matthew Lyon. In 1798 Rep. Lyon wrote a letter critical of President John Adams that could easily be written today by a congressman speaking of you. In his letter he criticized President Adams for his "unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and self avarice." For his comments Rep. Lyon was sent to prison for four months and, while imprisoned, re-elected to Congress.
My suggestion for you assumes that sending CNN and all its reporters to prison, would be far more gratifying for you than simply tweeting about them. Of course, tweeting offers more instant gratification and I know that is important for you. But I think a few front page pictures of CNN reporters entering a prison in handcuffs would ultimately prove to be far more gratifying for you than a tweet. My suggestion is that you send a 21st Century version of the Sedition Act to Congress ASAP.
I know that some of your advisors may counsel against trying to enact a new Sedition Act. They may tell you that in the case of New York Times Co. v Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court said: "Although the Sedition Act was never tested in this Court, the attack upon its validity has carried the day in the court of history." In a concurring opinion in another case, Watts v United States, Justice Douglas said: "The Alien and Sedition Laws constituted one of our sorriest chapters; and I had thought we had done with them forever.... Suppression of speech as an effective police measure is an old, old device, outlawed by our Constitution." Your response to those advisors is a simple one. By the time you have convinced Congress to pass the Sedition Act of 2017, and it arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court, that Court will be, if it not already is, a Court that will see nothing wrong with such a law, and will gladly support the criminalization of free speech when applied to those speaking of you.
I hope this letter helps you as you continue to make America Great Again.
Very Truly Yours,
Christopher R. Brauchli
P.S. You may also find that someone who says the sorts of things about you that Mr. Lyons said about President Adams, can be sued by you for libel.