By Former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Donald Trump is entitled to run for President… It’s a free country. Donald Trump and the others are entitled to say whatever they want, true or untrue… It’s a free country. Everybody is entitled to like or dislike whomever they wish… It’s a free country.
What makes us free and strong and unique in the history of nations is our Constitution, and in particular the first ten amendments to the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights. Included in the Bill of Rights is the freedom to worship without any impediments, the freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the freedom to peacefully assemble. The eighth amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment (i.e. torture). In addition, the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution confers citizenship on any person born in the United States. That same fourteenth amendment further states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of the law or deny to any person the equal protection of the laws. It is these precepts that has made America the exceptional nation that we are. At the time of the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, these were unprecedented rights granted by the government to its citizens. It was revolutionary!
What is troubling about the candidacy of Donald Trump and others is that in exercising their right of free speech (facts be damned), he and others have revealed their vision for America. In a word, it is frightening.
The reckless rhetoric has given legitimacy to racist attitudes. Just last week Mr. Trump tweeted fraudulent police statistics saying that 80 percent of whites murdered in this country were murdered by blacks. That statistic is as inflammatory as it is false. In fact, most whites are murdered by other whites. When confronted by this gross error, Mr. Trump dismissed the criticism by saying that he could not check every piece of information which came into his possession. But the racist damage is done and Mr. Trump has not apologized or even retracted. The same week, Mr. Trump said that he personally saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the attack and destruction of the World Trade Center and the three thousand lives lost on September 11, 2001. His fellow candidate Ben Carson concurred. They were both lying. There is no record of any such demonstrations in New Jersey or anywhere in this country. Quite the contrary. But the bigotry towards American Muslims was spewed and it continues to stoke an anti-Muslim furor.
But it is a free country. Mr. Trump and Mr. Carson are free to say what they will, even despicable and false hate speech. It is a free country after all.
But perhaps most disturbing is that these candidates and others are now speaking about denying the basic rights contained in our constitution to millions of Americans. There have been suggestions of suspending freedom of religion by closing religious institutions such a Mosques. There have been suggestions of taking away liberties of Americans and the equal protection of the laws by registering certain citizens and monitoring their movements and behavior. There have been suggestions that cruel and unusual punishment in the form of torture ought to be the policy of this country applied to those who are found to be suspect or may have information coveted by the government. There are suggestions of denying birthright citizenship and chasing down and rounding up millions of persons and deporting them to their country of origin.
These are truly disturbing developments, more so because seemingly millions of Americans are cheering on these kind of proposals out of ignorance, bigotry or fear… or all three.
For decades, historians have pondered the question as to how such an advanced and cultured nation as Germany allowed itself to descend into madness during the middle of the 20th century. Its leaders fanned the flames of hatred and bigotry which led to persecution, and then worse of those considered to be “alien Germans.” Many have opined that “it could never happen here.” Maybe not. But when leading candidates for the highest office in this country are talking about suspending the Bill of Rights and other protections memorialized in our constitution all Americans of good conscience ought to take note and be alarmed.
Yes, America is a free country… for now.