National Public Radio has an almost 30-year tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on-air on the Fourth of July. This year, to show that the network has kept up with the times and to reach a broader audience, NPR also decided to tweet the hallowed document in 113 consecutive posts in 140-character increments. That's when the Twitterverse of President Donald Trump admirers erupted.
NPR was accused of spamming Trump supporters or of pushing an agenda. The fact is that most did not recognize the document that was the source of the tweets. One responded, "Seriously, this is the dumbest idea I have ever seen of twitter. Literally no one is going to read 5000 tweets about this trash."
When the tweets reached the part describing how Britain's George III "obstructed the administration of justice" and had committed acts "which may define a Tyrant" and thus "is unfit to be the ruler of a free people," some believed the gloves had come off against Trump. One person responded, "Propaganda is that all you know how? Try supporting a man who wants to do something about the Injustice in this country #drainingtheswamp." Another accused NPR of inciting violence and revolution and called for the revocation of its funding.
This all might be chalked up to a simple misunderstanding if there hadn't been similar responses from Trump supporters about some of the basic tenets of the Constitution. In a June 2017 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, a majority of Republicans came across as hostile toward political and civil freedoms guaranteed by the law of the land.
Poll participants were asked, "For each of the following rights, do you think we have gone too far in expanding the right, gone too far in restricting the right, or things are OK the way they are?" Here are the results: For freedom of the press, 42 percent or Republicans thought we had gone too far, while the percentage for Democrats was a measly 11 percent. For the right to vote, 25 percent of Republicans thought we had stretched the privilege while only 5 percent of Democrats agreed. For the right to protest and criticize the government, 41 percent of Republicans thought we had gone too far while this was true for only 7 percent of Democrats.
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I find it amusing that 41 percent of the people who supported the "Party of No" for eight years, a party joined at the hip with the Tea Party known for its many rabid protests against the government, now think their fellow Americans have gone too far in protesting against this government. Maybe it has something to do with no longer having a Kenyan, Marxist president.
Lest you think the above poll results are tainted because they were funded by PBS and NPR, a Pew Research Center survey this past February found that less than half the Republicans who responded believed that the freedom of news organizations to criticize political leaders is important for maintaining a strong democracy. Seventy-five percent of Democrats believed this to be true.
Of course, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press and the right to criticize the government. There is nothing in the language about the dangers of going too far.
I have a Tea Party friend who carries one of those pocket copies of the Constitution, and he waves it around whenever Second Amendment rights appear threatened. I haven't seen him lately, but I wonder if he has used it to defend the media's coverage of the Trump White House?
A 2015 Harris Poll found that 42 percent of Republicans believe that there are books that should be banned completely from school libraries. The number for Democrats? Twenty-three percent. OK. I know that college campuses have had their share of censorship lately. Though relegated to a rather small sphere of American life, it's been wrong nonetheless.
So what's the "takeaway" here? For me, it's that some of our most cherished concepts in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are poorly understood and supported. Given the right trigger (an attack on home soil by a foreign enemy; a catastrophic natural event; wide and violent civil disobedience), the wrong person in power could severely infringe on our basic liberties, and almost half the population would go along. That is a frightening scenario for the "land of the free, and the home of the brave."
Frank Batavick writes from Westminster. His column appears Fridays. Email him at email@example.com.