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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Trump and the Bloody Stump

I have never cared for television personality Kathy Griffin. I find her crass, crude, and not particularly funny for a so-called comedienne. However, at a time when she is the recipient of opprobrium from both the political right and the left, including the media and the current president of the United States, I find it necessary to do what no one else has the intestinal fortitude to do and defend her constitutionally-protected right of free speech and call out the hypocrites who are shamelessly attacking her for their own purposes, be they political or merely a bid for higher ratings.

Griffin was making a political comment when she posted a tasteless photo on social media of herself holding a prop designed to resemble the severed head of Donald Trump, covered in blood. We do not have to agree with her politics, the sentiment of her expression, or the crudeness with which she expressed it. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly protects the rights of free speech and free expression. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled not all speech is equal and therefore not entitled to equal protection, however. Commercial speech is entitled to less protection than other forms of speech because speech designed to sell you something isn’t essential to democracy. The most important form of speech is political expression because without the freedom to express, exchange, and debate political thoughts the very concept of a democracy would be impossible. Therefore, courts have ruled that political expression must be protected no matter how much some listeners or viewers may abhor, object to, or oppose the content. This is the very basis of our American democracy.

The right-wing conservatives, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Trump supporters, and Alt-Right propagandists who had no objection to spreading cartoons of America’s first black president and his wife displayed as African gorillas, or showing a watermelon patch in the White House garden, or lynching President Obama in effigy, are now “shocked, shocked to find” (to quote Captain Renault in Casablanca), Griffin’s obviously fake photo of a beheaded Donald Trump. Hypocrites.

The left-wing media and political establishment, including the liberals and the progressives, have leapt to the airwaves to attack that Jezebel Kathy Griffin. Some do it defensively because they know Griffin’s post makes those like themselves who politically oppose Trump look bad; others do it because the post violates their notions of “political correctness”, which is ironic as political correctness is one of the greatest dangers to free speech and in most cases emanates from the left rather than the right of the political spectrum. But this is the same political left that once recognized the importance of free speech by defending the constitutional right of American neo-Nazis to hold a march through the predominantly Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois in 1978, knowing the tremendous emotional pain and affront to human dignity the Nazis would inflict on the Jewish residents. But the same left-wing that stood with the Nazis to support their constitutionally-protected First Amendment right of free speech are today denying that same right to Kathy Griffin. Hypocrites.

I am reminded of the Kefauver hearings in the U.S. Senate investigating violence in comic books. EC comics publisher Bill Gaines was asked about one of his comic book covers that showed a man with a bloody axe holding up a woman’s severed head. “Do you think that is in good taste?” he was asked. Gaines famously replied, “Yes, sir; I do, for the cover of a horror comic. A cover in bad taste, for example, might be defined as holding the head a little higher so that the neck could be seen dripping blood from it and moving the body over a little further so that the neck of the body could be seen to be bloody.”

Gaines’ point was that the cover could have been far more gruesome but that it was drawn to convey its message with enough shock value to attract attention but not with the degree of realism that would detract from its message. Kathy Griffin’s obviously fake photograph that looked like a Halloween mask splashed with red paint was her attempt at political expression. It was, as I have described Griffin herself, crass, crude, and not particularly funny; but it is constitutionally-protected free speech and she has every right to express herself. And for that, she has received condemnation from Americans who have forgotten that this country is based on a right of free expression, and she has been fired by CNN, a cable news network presumably devoted to and dependent on the right of free speech. Hypocrites.

Donald Trump tweeted (of course): “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself. My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” If there is anyone in America who should be ashamed of himself, it is Donald J. Trump. I am sorry if Barron is “having a hard time with this” – although I suspect this is another example of Trump using someone else’s identity to convey his own hurt feelings (Trump used the alias “John Barron” while pretending to be a publicist to promote his business affairs with reporters) – but there are a lot of 11-year-old children in America who are having a hard time with the budget Trump is submitting to Congress. These children live in families whose lives depend on the government safety net Trump is dismantling. These children, already facing the loss of school lunch programs, will go to bed hungry each night when their families no longer receive food stamps. These children will become homeless when their disabled parents lose their Social Security Disability Income or their Supplemental Security Income, as both programs are cut or eliminated. Some of these children and their families will die when they cannot afford the medical care or drugs they need to stay alive without Medicaid, or Medicare. This is not hyperbole; Americans are going to die and it is because of the actions being taken by Donald Trump.

So I’m sorry if your child is having a hard time with a photo on the Internet, Mr. Trump. Millions of other people’s children are going to be having a much harder time because of you. So if you want to spare Barron any future distress, you might look to your own actions and think before you do something that will negatively impact millions of Americans, particularly the poorest and the youngest. Think about whether Barron, when he grows up to be the fine young man I’m sure he will be, will look back at each of your actions today and be ashamed of his father.

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