A FIREABLE OFFENSE: Speaking freely … for the moment, at least

Oct 3 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, NEWS & VIEWS, Op-EdNo Comments on A FIREABLE OFFENSE: Speaking freely … for the moment, at least

My son and I enjoyed Sunday dinner in the trough between categories 5 Irma and Maria. We argued about whether the spate of powerful storms will finally prove anthropogenic climate change. My son reminded me arguing one storm proves climate change is just as scientifically illiterate as people arguing one snowstorm proves it’s a hoax. We found common ground, agreeing North Carolina has been very lucky this storm season, and the pattern of weather and sea-level rise is what makes climate change a real problem.

“And I think this POTUS is an idiot for pulling out of the Paris climate accord,” I added.
My son stared at me—glanced around the room as if looking for wiretapping devices.

“Can I say that? Is that a fireable offense?” I asked. My son laughed and we shifted our discussion to the First Amendment, speaking freely … for the moment.

The First Amendment is sacred for all of us. For some it appears the First Amendment is sacred when it comes to Citizen’s United. Corporate money talks in elections. So do Russians. The First Amendment is sacred when protecting Confederate flags and monuments. It’s sacred when people stand behind it to call Obama a Kenyan, communist, Muslim, or the anti-Christ.

Of course, for some, the First Amendment wasn’t sacred when Colin Kaepernick took a respectful, non-violent knee during the national anthem. It’s not sacred when ESPN anchor Jemele Hill tweets the POTUS is a white supremacist who surrounds himself with other white supremacist schmucks. Sarah Sanders, an official of the executive branch and current spokesperson for POTUS, suggested Ms. Hill, a private citizen and member of the formerly free press, should be fired.

Maybe Kaepernick is a lousy QB that doesn’t deserve an NFL job. And perhaps this POTUS is as pious a Christian as St. Francis of Assisi.

I wouldn’t bet on either.

Kaepernick has been treated unfairly by 32 individual NFL corporations. As I understand it, prosecutors don’t prosecute simple unfairness. If Kaepernick never works as an NFL QB again because NFL owners are a cartel of timid white schmucks, it’s probably legal—unless he’s not hired explicitly because of race, age, gender, or religion.

Like the NFL teams, ESPN is a business that has labor laws to follow and internal policies to adhere to. Calling the president names doesn’t appear to violate any labor laws. At this point, Ms. Hill’s employer, ESPN, consider her tweets as “inappropriate,” but don’t appear to consider them “fireable offenses.”

At the Coast Guard commencement in May, the POTUS said, “No politician in history, I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

No administration spokesperson in history, and I say this with great surety, has suggested a sports anchor be fired for a tweet that offends the POTUS.

Every POTUS prior to this knucklehead (can I say that?) has endured patiently the name-calling, the slights, the slanderous comments, being hung in effigy, or worse. It’s part of the job. Most would have understood the POTUS has no business reacting publicly to personal insults. Most would have understood the chilling effect on the First Amendment of any White House official saying a private citizen and member of the press corps should be fired for calling the president names. It’s ironic if inappropriate tweets were “fireable offenses” in the White House itself; 45 would have been fired January 22.

A White House official suggesting economic punishment for calling the president a name? That’s fascism.  And that is a “fireable offense.”

Calling the president names doesn’t bring us together or solve problems, but it’s a sacred American tradition. I may choose not to indulge, but if readers who want to call the president a soulless snowflake, talentless tagger, or white-supremacist honky cat with tiny hands can have at it.

A far more “presidential” response to being called names than trading middle-school insults, censorship or threats might be for the POTUS to read some James Baldwin or Maya Angelou, really listen to what’s going on, and issue a reassuring presidential fireside tweet that suggests our sacred and unfettered freedom of speech be balanced and strengthened by accepting a responsibility to listen.

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