Trump’s comments on Friday, when he referred to those who kneel in protest as “sons of bitches,” has handed him a whole mess of trouble. First, instead of being cowed by his bullying, hundreds of NFL players joined the protest – which was much smaller before Trump decided to open his mouth. Then, Trump’s doubling down on those comments sparked further outraged across the nation, with his statements and the protests dominating news coverage over the weekend.
Now, it’s looking like that’s far from the end of trouble for Trump over this. The Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which is made up of elected officials and key Democratic Party leaders, bills itself as the “nation’s largest grassroots Resistance organization,” just slammed him with an ethics complaint for likely breaking the law by repeatedly calling for firings and league boycotts, an abuse of his position in the White House.
The complaint reads as follows:
‘On Friday September 22nd, 2017 President Donald Trump said this at a rally for Alabama Senator Luther Strange: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”‘
The complaint then highlights multiple examples of Trump tweets which double down on his statements:
The complaint then gets to the crux of the matter, continuing with:
‘18 U.S. Code § 227 makes it a federal crime – punishable by a fine of up to 15 years in prison – for anyone, including the President, to influence or threaten to influence a private employment decision.
‘We respectfully request that the U.S. Office of Government Ethics investigate these potential ethics violations and take all appropriate disciplinary actions against President Trump.’
You can read the complaint in its entirety here (PDF).
That section of U.S. code is an extension of First Amendment rights. Essentially, it makes it illegal for any elected government official to abuse the power and influence of their position to get someone fired for partisan political speech. Trump, who does not have a firm grasp on American values, does not seem to understand that his statements are not those of a private citizen. When a president says something, it carries more weight than disagreement. Attempts to organize a boycott, get someone fired, or otherwise apply pressure to a private entity because you disagree with their political speech, as an elected official, are against the spirit of the First Amendment and the letter of federal law.
Even if Trump’s comments weren’t illegal, they are deeply disingenuous. The White House occupant does not get to dictate what is and isn’t love for your country, or what is or isn’t disrespectful to those who served. While Trump’s supporters attempt to use military veterans as a bludgeon with which to shut down the free speech of dissenters, thousands of service members have spoken up on behalf of the protests. It turns out that many people actually support the First Amendment. Who would have guessed?
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