Trump and Twitter and Kaepernick and the NFL and the First Amendment

Two decisions came out recently, one from the judiciary and another from a private business. I’ve taken an interest in both of these rulings simply because they were both released on the same day, as the result of happy coincidence, and because they coincide with a general confusion that grips present American society.

Let’s unpack.

Trump and Twitter

President Trump, a New York judge ruled, cannot block people on Twitter. Presumably, this only applies to American citizens, as the rationale behind the decision aims to protect American citizens’ first amendment right to free speech. President Trump’s account belongs in the public domain, and as a result of his voluntary, patriotic subjugation to the commons, he must submit his account to the visibility and criticism of those who may not think too kindly of him. If ever there was a chance to aid in Trump’s mental degradation, now would be your prime opportunity. Realize, if he took the time to block individual users who said mean things about him, then it stands to reason that he could read through many mean comments submitted by all of you before finding a favorable one, one to his liking—one that excites him in such a way as to say, “Yeah, this is a good one. This one will be the one that lets me go to sleep happy.”

And I say mental degradation rather than personal growth because this is a 72 year old man we’re talking about. His supporters all throughout his campaign and eventual election could say that he would eventually be more presidential, or grow into the office of the presidency, but trying that excuse now as a defense for his endless, unceasing antics should draw the collective guffaws of at least three Fox News viewers, by now. This man is no longer capable of positive growth. He’s been rich for too long and famous for too long to remember that words will never hurt him. In fact, for people in his standing and stature, words are the only thing we plebes can hope to throw at America’s aristocracy. In Trump’s case, witty insults and base comments do have punching power, and we better enjoy it while we can because, while Trump cannot grow positively, he will continue to grow negatively—he will grow more annoying, more unhinged, and ultimately, more dangerous. It’s our bad luck that these unwelcomed growths are going to happen even if we continue to be civil.

Kaepernick and the NFL

Roger Goodell, on behalf of the NFL, has made his stand. Kneeling, he and team owners have decided, will no longer be tolerated without penalty. Sports entertainment will be that and only that: Sports Entertainment. In other words, the power to make political decisions and the power to take political action and the power to make political statements is, once again, the sole purview and right of the NFL, the Commissioner, and team owners; players, or as Trump—a political figure, remember—called them, “sons of bitches,” have no business in such matters, neither can they subject viewers and stadium attendants to politically-motivated gestures, postures, signs or slogans, or messages that might in any way be construed to make a political point. Of course, the NFL’s decision only applies to kneeling, but whatever the next demonstration is will logically be prohibited in the same fashion: with sanctions.

This puts one business, the NFL, in a possible showdown with its sponsors. I certainly hope so, anyway. Let’s remember that businesses are quick in our day and age to distance themselves from words or actions that they say “does not reflect their philosophy.” I’ve yet to see any movement from the private sector in retaliation to this decision, so, for the moment, it does not yet make economic sense to stop the advertising dollars. Okay, I understand. Consider this, though, the NFL says that players who kneel will have their teams fined. What if they continue to kneel? A truly progressive business, or rather one that wants to improve its public image, may choose to handle the cost of the fines, in what it would invariably justify as the defense of players’ first amendment rights. At least, that would be the marketing strategy that I would pursue if I were, say, Pfizer, or Purdue, or Amazon, any business in need of a PR boost.

The NFL’s decision, meanwhile, may be a win for Trump but it also pits the modern day bread and circus against liberals and conservatives who took no issue with Kaepernick’s kneeling.

–Let me take a brief aside. The NFL made its ruling, I’m sure, after a thorough consideration of the economic impact this decision would have on its profit margin, and ultimately followed through with it, either because the cost, while negative, would still yield profit, or because allowing the players to kneel would put revenues in the red. This is no anti-capitalist analysis, rather a reminder of how businesses operate—and how we sometimes confuse a simple weighing of cost and benefit with morality and corporate responsibility. Starbucks put themselves in a timeout for an afternoon, maybe to reflect, and maybe to lessen the damage to their image. Okay, back to the previous paragraph.

Who does the NFL hire for their half-time shows? Is it Tim McGraw? Is it Blake Shelton? They might sing the national anthem, as Luke Brian did last year, but country acts do not regularly grace the halftime stage. Instead, conservatives watch with their nerves fried over whether Lady Gaga will puke rainbows—Coldplay and Katy Perry beat her to it—or they might squirm with consternation over Beyonce’s 2-minute performance of “Formation”. Pop acts take over, and as any conservative is loath to realize, pop acts tend to favor liberal causes and have liberal followings. I would expect halftime shows to become more political in response to the NFL’s decision, if only for the headline potential that such a show would grab. Give the liberals their time in the sun, the NFL might have decided, because now that, let’s say, Adele is performing, the liberals will tune in, the conservatives won’t tune out, and everyone can watch with anticipation whether Childish Gambino will perform a medley of “This is America” in response to Adele continuously asking “Hello?”

Trump and Twitter and Kaepernick and the NFL

8th grade Civics class is doing this country a great disservice. It apparently isn’t quite hammering home what the first amendment actually protects. Speech, of course, is not strictly verbal, and political speech does not strictly apply to, well, speech. Flag burning is an example of political speech that is protected by the first amendment, as ruled upon by the Supreme Court in Texas v. Johnson (1989). Scroll through a few comments on a Kaepernick video and you’ll eventually find vets who don’t like the ex-quarterback’s kneeling, but who fought to protect his right to do so, and respect his action. Some vets support Kaepernick without condition or caveat. There are, of course, detractors who want to censor him and his supporters, like President Trump, but they find that their wishes can only take them so far. In Trump’s case, it took him all the way to a New York district court, where he found that he could not simply block the things that made him uncomfortable. Well, he could for the duration that it took the case to reach the court, but not anymore—at least as far as Twitter is involved.

The NFL may find itself in a similar boat. By allowing players to stay in the locker room as a compromise to kneeling in the field, it is dictating the bounds of acceptable political speech by blocking the sight of players, as Trump tried with his critics. By keeping the sight of what makes a portion of viewers uncomfortable, the NFL in effect makes it even more comfortable for players to make a political statement since they are no longer facing down with 40 different cameras. Now the attention is turned to the players who aren’t on the field, rather than who is on the field and kneeling, since staying in the locker room does not incur fines. Advertisers rejoice, no one has to bear the cost of kneeling players, except the players who stay inside because their names and image will be vilified, while their playing ability is increasingly scrutinized since it’ll suddenly equate to their worth.

All of this ties to a greater discussion on political correctness, but even less people seem to know what political correctness actually is, or its utility in present society. Like the first amendment, there are myriad ways in which to interpret and define political correctness, to both defend your beliefs and attack your opponents. What these two decisions exemplify is how the first amendment can win in one case (Trump and Twitter) and lose in another (Kaepernick and the NFL)—and we can better understand why American society is so confused over what the hell free speech is.

 

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