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.