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Trump's Social Media Executive Order Shows Just How Low He'll Go to Win

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From The Nation

His attack on Twitter is really an attack on the right to criticize the president.

Angry President Trump attacks  Twitter
Angry President Trump attacks Twitter
(Image by YouTube, Channel: PBS NewsHour)
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Donald Trump claims that fact-checking is an assault on free speech.

He is -- it should go without saying -- wrong. Indeed, the whole point of writing the First Amendment was to establish the right of the people and the media to object to claims by presidents and other powerful officials -- especially when those claims are lies.

Unfortunately, Trump needs his lies. Desperately. The president understands that at a point when his approval ratings are collapsing because of a jarringly awful response to the coronavirus pandemic and mass unemployment, only a campaign based on false premises and the crudest deceits can keep him competitive in the 2020 presidential race. So this president is ready to use the power of his position to attack the basic underpinnings of the First Amendment. Furious that Twitter attached a clarifying link to a false tweet he sent about mail-in voting, Trump on Wednesday tweeted, "Big Tech is doing everything in their very considerable power to CENSOR in advance of the 2020 Election. If that happens, we no longer have our freedom. I will never let it happen! They tried hard in 2016, and lost. Now they are going absolutely CRAZY. Stay Tuned!!!"

The president is not defending the First Amendment. He is proposing a fiercely unconstitutional reinterpretation of it that serves his political interests.

"Much as he might wish otherwise, Donald Trump is not the president of Twitter," declared the American Civil Liberties Union as a draft of the president's order circulated early Thursday. "This order, if issued, would be a blatant and unconstitutional threat to punish social media companies."

That's true. But this is about more than Trump's feud with the managers of a social media platform.

As Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe reminds us, "The unconstitutional character of his threats doesn't prevent them from undermining everyone's liberties."

Trump is playing politics. He knows he has to discredit even mild assertions of the facts because, as he prepares for a difficult reelection race, he has nothing but lies to offer the American people. So he is not merely attacking fact-checking but trying to revoke the right to speak truth to power.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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