Protecting free speech — an American inheritance Trump can defend now

Protecting free speech — an American inheritance Trump can defend now
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A large political opportunity is currently presenting itself to President Trump — to move to protect all citizens’ First Amendment rights and, in so doing, gain support and increase his poll numbers among conservatives, independents, centrists, and liberals on the left. The president might very well also increase his chances of having Congress pass his growth-oriented agenda.

Illiberal left administrators, professors and students — at colleges and universities across the United States — routinely intimidate, attack and punish anyone who does not agree with their point of view. They interfere with fellow Americans’ rights to free speech, to freedom of religion, to assemble peaceably and to due process.

This demonization of those holding different points of view has also taken root in our political culture — violating First Amendment norms and corrupting our understanding of those unique American principles and ideals that animate and bind us together.

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Every day the illiberal left not only viciously trample on the rights of well-intentioned Americans who voted for the president. They also trample on the rights of Americans who may be conservatives, independents, centrists and liberals on the left.

 

Something must be done. Something can be done. The good news is that the president is uniquely positioned. He controls the executive branch. And he does not need Congress to pass any further legislation. His administration could implement the following strategy related to public universities.

First, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosThe 7 most interesting nuggets from the Mueller report Blackwater founder Erik Prince helped fund effort tied to obtaining Clinton's emails GOP lawmaker calls for investigation into alleged 'anti-Israeli bias' at Duke-UNC conference MORE and Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller MORE could announce an open, public process to develop rules about state universities — which must adhere to the First Amendment — teaching and coaching administrators, faculty, and students on the extent and limits of free expression in the U.S., what the U.S. Constitution has meant and come to mean over the years, and how to entertain and evaluate different points of view and debate respectfully in the pursuit of truth.

Second, the Department of Education might also announce a rulemaking process about state universities guaranteeing an open door policy to speakers invited to campus, taking whatever security measures are necessary, and punishing those who interfere with those exercising their First Amendment rights. If needed, the administration could reallocate resources to enforce such protections.

Third, the Department of Education might rely on already established, carefully researched, and frequently updated rankings of colleges and universities, to monitor and track the degree to which those institutions encourage the expression of and civil debate about different points of view. Particularly useful are rankings of the top 150 universities and top 50 liberal arts college in the U.S.

Such rankings, if made even more available and visible, could effect positive changes in behavior. They might encourage students to re-evaluate whether to attend schools that interfere with such rights. Rankings could influence donors to reevaluate their giving and might even cause employers to reconsider hiring graduates who stifle others for holding different points of view.

As far as private institutions — which are not obliged to uphold the First Amendment — the administration is limited in what it can do to address the stifling of free speech and freedom at those institutions.

But because many private colleges and universities have decided to follow First Amendment norms, the secretary of education and the attorney general could publicly point out that private colleges and universities that made such representations to prior and current students and donors — and yet violated those norms — may have committed fraud and breached contracts. The above-mentioned rankings help expose such violations.

In my view, protecting this unique inheritance is a national priority, on a par with passing tax reform and infrastructure legislation. If the president and his administration were to lead a call to action in defense of these animating principles and ideals, even implacable enemies would have to respect these efforts.

Such decisive action would again also highlight the president’s disavowal of the illiberal right. Conservative, independent, centrist, and liberal left members of the American working and middle classes, students, and others could come to respect the president’s intentions. Some may even begin to identify more readily with the Trump administration’s worthy growth priorities.

The president’s poll numbers could increase, as could the GOP’s, if Republicans adopt this policy — which could help their mid-term election prospects.

I could even see Democrats in Congress aligning with the president on this effort. And the improved good will from his moving America closer to the principles and ideals of the Constitution might prompt more Democrats to work with the president and the GOP on legislation, possibly passing a trillion dollar infrastructure bill — getting America moving again.

Clarence Schwab is founder and managing partner of Schwab Capital Management, an investment and advisory firm focused on publicly traded and smaller privately held companies.