BOSTON (CBS) — One thing you learn early on in this business–old controversies rarely, if ever, die, they just get recycled. Case in point: The president-elect’s resurrection of one of the most time-tested hot-button issues there is, flag burning.

In case you missed it, it started early yesterday morning when Trump reacted to a flag-burning protest at Hampshire College by tweeting that “nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”

That won’t be happening.

The Supreme Court has twice ruled that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment, like other offensive speech–and you can take it to the bank that Trump isn’t really serious about challenging that law. He just wants to shift the focus away from stories about his business conflicts, and pander to the crowd, the same way Hillary Clinton did when she was in the Senate and co-sponsored a bill to outlaw flag-burning.

But make no mistake, both Clinton and Trump know a volatile issue when they see one.

In many countries, burning the national flag is a serious crime, including some places with freedom of speech traditions roughly comparable to ours.

And I can see why. Free speech means you are free to speak, but not free from any potential consequences of that speech. Flag-burning is an especially blunt and juvenile form of expression. We who deplore it are free to say so.

But we shouldn’t be baited by such an idiotic display, or succumb to politicians who want to use our disgust for it to manipulate us.

Comments (9)
  1. Olde Owle says:

    I recall that Hillary Clinton was in favor of such legislation when SHE was in the Senate.

    Unlike others in our political world, I am of the belief that the Supreme Court does, in fact try to uphold the constitution. My disagreements with them is when they create law with their opinions, That is the sole and exclusive right of the Legislature, not the Executive or the Courts.

  2. There was a bill to make it illegal to burn the flag that missed by only one vote not that long ago. I think that is the one you are talking about Owle.

    The Supreme Court rules according to the make up of the court, which has been determined by which administration had the opportunity to choose a member that was in line with their political views. And although the Supreme Court may have decided that it is lawful to burn the flag, and that it is a ‘free speech’ issue, that doesn’t mean that a large portion of American society agrees with them.

    I respect the flag, the Constitution and my fellow Americans, but I don’t agree with the broad definition that burning a flag is a form of protest protected by Free Speech. To me they are separate concepts and actions. You are free to protest and say what you want, controversial, negative or not, but burning a flag is a different ball of wax. It is a hostile, destructive, statement being made, that reflects an Anti American view. Has nothing to do with whatever issue they are protesting. It is done for shock value to get attention. It’s counter productive because whatever your complaint is, then falls on deaf ears because of the offense given to your audience. Those you expect to see burning an American flag, are not our citizens but their enemies.

    It bears noting that this came up due to the actions of a group of 19 year olds at Hampshire College recently.

    What is needed when there is disagreement in this country, is civil discussion, compromise and consensus. Burning a flag does not promote any of those things.

    And I do agree that Trump is manipulative – to the nth degree.

    1. Olde Owle says:

      I think that a strong argument, Lizzie, that every president in our history has been manipulative to the nth degree.

      I use as examples Obama’s promises on healthcare and his Iranian nuclear deal, FDR’s manipulation of American sentiment from 1939 until December 7, 1941, Teddy Roosevelt’s “talk softly and carry a big stick”, Lincoln’s redirection of The People’s perceptions of the causes of the Civil War, even George Washington’s deft handling of the Continental Congress’ support of the American Revolutionary War.

      Manipulation is the essence of politics…and so is finesse in the classic definition of the word.

    2. “You’re free to protest and say what you want”. Even though you disagree, the act of burning the flag is a form of protest and a statement that is protected by the first amendment. Do you have a problem w/1st.A? Statements that are hostile and destructive and anti-American enjoy the same protection under the 1st.A as The Lord’s Prayer, and The Pledge of Allegiance. You list reasons that the act may be stupid and counterproductive but those criteria were wisely left out of the 1st.A.

      1. Olde Owle says:

        Where did I say that I supported legislation against flag burning, Rowdy?

        Frankly, I find the act an appalling disrespect for everything that we stand for, particularly when it is done by cosseted adolescents who have no understanding…or affinity…to the millions of men and women who have given their lives to provide them the right to commit arson by burning the flag in a public space.

        But arson is far different than speech…one is a crime and the other is a protected right that is essential to our freedoms.

        As for those whose “ideas are best for the country”, I have a pointed question to ask:

        Says who

        And when that “doing best for the country” involves defying the Constitution and the statutes that define our rights, our institutions, and our processes, doesn’t that smell of tyranny and dictatorship?

        If you do not care for the process, work to change both the Constitution and the law. But if you persist on the thesis that only certain “elites” know what is best and are “entitled” to do as they please irrespective of the law, that puts the crucial “rule by law” as secondary to “agenda”.

        I don’t doubt that you would prefer to be governed by those with whom you have affinity. But that is not the way it is going to be.

        You, the liberals…er…progressives…er…whatever it is that you are calling yourselves these days to evade having to accept the responsibility for your own failures…have squandered your political powers; and that squandering is recognized in your loss of governors chairs, state legislatures, the House of Representatives, the Senate, and soon the office of President of the United States.

        Stop crying about our not getting anywhere. You need to focus on GETTING YOURSELVES SOMEWHERE before the 2020 election when you may find yourselves locked out of the redistricting processes…and local political power of national consequence…for another decade.

  3. Manipulation in society has become all too acceptable….actually valued by some. Especially in the world of Corporate America. Which Trump is a part of. And I’d agree, in the world of politics. Personally, if you hadn’t noticed, I value directness whenever possible. [g]

    About the only thing I can think of that gives me an example of finesse that is necessary and valuable, is in parenting. When my two year old who had a mind of her own and insisted on choosing her own clothes every morning, creating a fight to get out the door, I was advised by a more experienced parent, to offer her only two choices that were acceptable to me and it would be a win-win. Which it was. Worked like a charm.

    I’m not so sure that I’d call Teddy, FDR etc., manipulative. Yes, FDR was walking a thin line trying to get the US to enter the War in Europe and they were having none of it. But it was in the best interests of the country and the world. I’d call that just leadership. If there was finesse or manipulation going on, it was for the purpose of doing what was best for the country. That isn’t always the case with politicians. And then there are some whose ideas of what is best for the country are in conflict with what Americans think are best for them. Or they are best for only one segment of Americans, while ignoring the rights of other segments.

    I don’t know how we get anywhere, most of the time. [g] I’ve said many times before, sorry if it’s old, but, I’m not so sure a ‘melting pot’ society works.

    1. bees_knees_6 says:

      I was with you until your last paragraph. Please explain more. It reads as if you prefer to remove those who are not of one type. I am hoping I am very wrong. It was a melting pot society when it was formed. It has remained a melting pot society since its inception. The problem is not the melting pot but those within the society who feel they are superior either by race, gender, religion, etc.

      1. I wasn’t making any suggestions BK. It’s an observation that I’ve expressed before. That when you have a country who has so many different people with polar opposite viewpoints, you end up with a lot of conflict and polarization. As we do today. And I don’t agree with you that the problem is anyone feeling superior, but rather the values and positions that are mutually exclusive. Hard to compromise when someone believes in the death penalty and someone doesn’t. What is the compromise, someone is half dead? So it’s not a question of who is right, but being able to live with laws in your own country that don’t line up with your own beliefs. We have managed to accept what we can’t change for the most part and carry on, and respect the majority rule, but I can’t help but wonder if we reached a tipping point. And the majority rule is too narrow. Instead of 75% of the people agreeing, barely 51% agree at any one time, leaving the other 49% unhappy and frustrated, waiting for an opportunity to get their turn.

        And sometimes I feel like some people see the solution of reducing government to the lowest common denominator so that everything is acceptable, but I don’t see that working.

        I also don’t believe that it was the same melting pot society at it’s inception as it is today. There was a pretty homogenous group of religious backgrounds when people first came to this country. That is a pretty big avenue of common ground, to share. And despite all the different backgrounds, same sex marriage issues, were nowhere in sight at that point in time.

        And an alternative theory, is, that party politics have created a widening gap between people by their exploitation of the concerns and needs of one group or another to win votes, which ends up pitting one group against another. That is what has happened in this election and I’m sure it’s not the first time.

  4. bees_knees_6 says:

    Owle, your comment gave me a smile. And I say that fondly. The pendulum will swing in the direction of the progressives as it does throughout history. At that point your exact comments will be made with regard to conservatives….er….regressives ;) Such is the way of the life. Now, if we could stop labeling and actually start listening and understanding, we might actually get somewhere. Until such time, I’m afraid those who feel the need to label will continue to be the biggest problem our country faces.

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