Freedom of speech doesn’t protect a person from liability for falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater, I was taught in college.
The phrase, often misquoted and misused, dates to a World I opinion by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who wrote: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”
We’ll see how much it applies to Donald J. Trump.
On a stage larger than any theater, President Trump egged on those who invaded the capitol after filling their minds with the idea that their country was being stolen.
A few days later, Trump was impeached on the charge of “incitement of insurrection,” as the U.S. House of Representatives took the view that he more than falsely shouted fire in a crowded theater and indeed did cause a panic.
He’s the first U.S. president to be impeached twice, and could become the first one to be convicted by the Senate, although I doubt that happens.
As a practical matter, I’m not sure the impeachment papers should even be sent up to the Senate.
Trump will have already been out of office by the time any trial is held, and with the Senate divided as it is, I doubt there would be a conviction. It takes a two-thirds vote.
The trial would further inflame the ardent Trump supporters — of which there are still many — and do nothing to heal the political divisions in this nation, assuming such a healing is even possible in the near future.
Many of those who actually stormed the Capitol are already facing some consequences.
Travis Dorman of the Knoxville News Sentinel, in a USA Today article, reports on federal authorities tracking down and charging people identified as culprits, including some who willingly got their mugs and actions on social media.
Some have already lost their jobs as well as facing charges.
“Derrick Evans, a 35-year-old newly elected Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, live streamed to his Facebook page a video showing him illegally entering the Capitol, according to federal prosecutors,” Dorman wrote. “As he walked through the door, he shouted, incriminatingly, "Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!”
Evans resigned after being federally charged, and now his political career looks to be over as both Republicans and Democrats in his state condemned his actions, the article noted.
Dorman listed others who lost their jobs after being identified in the insurrection. One guy even wore his work badge to the riot.
It’s hard for many of us to comprehend the thought processes of people who would join a mob to try to overrun the government.
Usually it takes a charismatic leader, and for some Donald Trump is just that.
He told them in his speech that he would be with them, but apparently he meant only in spirit as he didn’t participate in breaking through the Capitol barriers. He probably was watching it on television.
Trump still has many supporters, and to be fair the vast majority are patriotic Americans with the good sense not to break the law.
I read a newspaper column by one of them, a Pentecostal preacher, comparing Trump to Ronald Reagan and opining that Trump was the greatest president since Reagan who, I might note, served two terms without being once impeached.
My guess is that history will not judge Trump nearly as kindly as it already has Reagan.
Trump could have been judged on a better legacy: reshaping the federal judiciary to a more conservative bent; until the pandemic, a good economy; some foreign policy successes.
Had he accentuated the positive aspects of his administration in the final days and stepped away gracefully, he would have been judged better.
But now I predict he will be most remembered by the chaos he caused as he ungracefully leaves office.