Donald Trump has recently spoken out on a number of occasions in favour of a Constitutionalist approach to free speech. Trump has been motivated to address the issue of free speech after a number of social media corporations censored both medium sized professional media outlets and individual activist-commentators for expressing views critical of liberal socio-politics in America. Moments ago, Trump re-stated his position on free speech by Tweeting “Social Media Giants are silencing millions of people. Can’t do this even if it means we must continue to hear Fake News like CNN, whose ratings have suffered gravely. People have to figure out what is real, and what is not, without censorship!”
Social Media Giants are silencing millions of people. Can’t do this even if it means we must continue to hear Fake News like CNN, whose ratings have suffered gravely. People have to figure out what is real, and what is not, without censorship!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
The legal position that Trump is alluding too is that the private property (including intellectual property) rights of major social media corporations end where they curtail the open expression of free speech as it is guaranteed by the first amendment to the US constitution. In this sense, just as a privately owned electronics shop or restaurant are public spaces in the literal sense of the word, current legislation both at a national level and at the level of individual US states protects people from being discriminated against in terms of entry and service on a basis of race, religious affiliation or atheism, ethnic/national background, sex or sexual orientation.
As many US jurisdictions already prohibit discrimination on the basis of affiliation with workers unions, the next logical step that Trump is hinting at is a national covenant to include one’s political beliefs and/or party affiliation along with the aforementioned protected classes. This could either be done on the basis of a voluntary agreement where major tech firms stop their censorship drive and restore previously censored content or it could be achieved through a new federal civil rights bill mandating the protection of political beliefs from censorship on privately owned by publicly accessible platforms.
Trump’s views on free speech are classic American style constitutional libertarianism combined with an implied Teddy Roosevelt style method of admonishing corporate monopolies from exercising too much power and in so doing threatening individual liberty. Trump’s commitment to the free speech of both his allies, his enemies and to those considered “controversial” is part and parcel of the American tradition of free speech where one can say anything one wants in whatever way one wants with the exception of openly threatening or otherwise promising to commit a crime.
In Britain, while traditions of free speech have been an outgrowth of the articles of an unwritten constitution (perhaps better explained as an un-codified constitution) dating back to Magna Carta, because there is no UK equivalent to the US first amendment, censorship in Britain is vastly more rife than in the United States.
The desire to censor ordinary people from expressing themselves was a key feature of the widely discredited government of Tony Blair while censoring free speech on the internet has long been a flagship policy of the current UK Prime Minister.
While in Britain, the right, centre and left all bear their portion of responsibility for the present restrictions on free speech, the current leader of the UK opposition Labour party and a life-long democratic socialist Jeremy Corbyn has proposed his own methods for insuring a more diverse atmosphere of free speech in Britain.
On the 23rd of August, Corbyn took to social media and posted the following:
“Print too often sets the broadcast agenda, even though it is wedded so firmly to the Tories politically and to corporate interests more generally.
Just because it’s on the front page of The Sun or the Mail doesn’t automatically make it news.
We must break the stranglehold of elite power and billionaire domination over large parts of our media.
Just three companies control 71% of national newspaper circulation and 5 companies control 81% of local newspaper circulation.
For all the worry about new forms of fake news, most people think our newspapers churn out fake news day in, day out.
It’s hardly a surprise in the last 4 years one political earthquake after another has been missed by most of our media.
One of the more radical and interesting possible ways to limit the power of unaccountable media barons is to give journalists the power to elect editors and have seats on boards for workers and consumers when a title or programme gets particularly large and influential.
Corbyn’s proposals to democratise the corporate media through a more collective corporate structure is reflective of Corbyn’s views as traditional socialist for whom US style libertarianism is anathema but where censorious corporate monopolies are equally distasteful as they typically are to the libertarian. Corbyn further proposed what is being called a “state owned Facebook” which unlike private newspapers in Britain, would have to conform strictly to the standards of existing criminal law but would not be allowed to implement arbitrary restrictions beyond this.
While Trump and Corbyn’s solutions to the pan-western war against free speech and expression and the corporate (almost always liberal) media monopoly that has largely brought it to the fore of social discourse are obvious reflections of each man’s political background. Furthermore, on a personal level there is much that binds Trump and Corbyn together.
At first glance, the two men are incredibly different. Donald Trump is the billionaire property mogul living in gilded mansions and penthouses whose jet-set lifestyle has ironically been curtailed by becoming the President of the United States. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn remains an activist politician at heart in spite of his party leadership role and leads a famously austere personal lifestyle.
Yet both men have been subject to the same kinds of attacks. Both have been accused of being “soft” on Russia and having dubious connections to both present and past Russian governments. Corbyn has meanwhile been accused of having neo-Nazi like attributes which is hardly consistent with accusations of being “pro-Soviet”, nor is it consistent with his long political record as a member of the UK parliament. Because of this, both men have found that the liberal so-called centre have openly conspired against them. This itself demonstrates that the liberal corporate media is capable of punching both to the left and the right without hesitation and without showing even a small element of modesty when confronted with the truth. In this case, the truth is that whatever one’s views are on Trump or Corbyn, neither man is accurately reported by the vast majority of corporate media outlets.
While Trump and Corbyn cannot be considered “allies” in the formal sense, both men are simultaneously speaking out on an issue of critical importance and one that effects them both personally and professionally. Whether one embraces the libertarian right or the traditional socialist left (which is in many respects even more anti-liberal than the libertarian right), both groups now seem to be ever more united (albeit by circumstance rather than by design) in a fight to strengthen free speech against the wishes of liberal politicians and their allies in the corporate media.