Earlier this morning, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted the following:
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
Don’t do it. Don’t fall for it. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t make an embarrassing spectacle of yourself.
Forget for the moment the ridiculousness of that tweet. Where did this even stem from? It doesn’t matter. Forget the fact that citizenship cannot be revoked except for under exceptional circumstances, none of which include burning the flag. Forget that the Supreme Court, in Texas v. Johnson held (correctly) that the First Amendment protects the act of flag burning from criminal punishment, and that the late Justice Antonin Scalia – the very seat that President Trump will now surely replace – was the swing vote for the majority in that case. This is not about the fact that Donald Trump is not only an affront to conservatism, but a disgrace to the very nation that has now elected him.
This is about the fact that the election is over, but Trump’s “campaign,” so to speak, is not. This is about galvanizing his supporters to shield him against both criticism and opposition through the continuous cultivation of your outrage and the oversaturation of media sensationalism. Call it trolling if you’d like, but consider the endgame.
After Barack Obama took office, Democrats found themselves, over the years, increasingly bereft of attention-grabbing political weapons. Who could seriously argue that with Obama in the White House, the Republicans were the real guys in charge? Thus, they turned to the culture. The “real” existential threats were first seen in Wall Street in 2011. The Left later did it again with “the Patriarchy,” and also “white supremacy in policing.” Find a way to frame the issues as a continuous struggle for Democrats as underdogs, and get the kids to start playing Call of Duty: Modern Social Justice Warfare. The rise of campus PC madness reflects this.
At the ballot boxes, this model didn’t work well for the Left but that does not mean that they didn’t have the right idea, regardless of how much poison it would add to the wellspring of discourse. It is precisely what Donald Trump turned against them time and time again over this past year and even before. Trump may be uncouth, boorish, and easily baited, but this year is proof that so are many of you. And you’d be mistaken to think that he would relinquish these cultural weapons now that he wields the bully pulpit of executive power.
How then does this apply to flag burning? Consider the backlash Colin Kaepernick (correctly) received for his insolent expression. No one wanted him jailed for it, but surely it did not amount to what he had hoped it would. Now consider that although most people in America agree that the right to burn a flag should remain legal, far fewer of them like or would enjoy seeing one actually burned. Very few people are likely to think highly of a person that so disrespects the American flag. And who wants to bet that many of those people either voted Trump or stayed home and allowed his movement’s passion to run the day. These people are effectively moderates by all accounts and they are paying attention. You will not endear yourself in their eyes.
Donald Trump does not care about his supporters or even about those people, and he cares even less about you. But his army of supporters will take notice of you, and should that be your method of outreach they will not heed your criticism of him, however correct it turns out to be.
The troll is no longer beneath the bridge but he demands your angst and overreaction. Don’t feed it.