First Amendment Tablet

Workers remove the facade bearing the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution from what was formerly the Newseum in February along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. The facade will be reinstalled at The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

In a quote ironically misattributed to Mark Twain, Josh Billings once said, “I honestly believe it is better to know nothing than to know what ain’t so.”

If America is essentially an idea, and the idea made manifest is mere words on paper, for example the Constitution, how then could anyone overthrow that government?

Steal the words; corrupt and contort their meaning.

From 1912 to 1991, the organ of the Communist Party in the Soviet Socialist Republic (the former USSR) was called Pravda. The aim of Pravda was to prevent any truth unflattering to the government from reaching the people. The aim was to shape a narrative, however untrue, that bolstered the government. “Pravda,” in Russian, means truth.

On March 12, U.S. Rep., R-Ohio, said, “What our government depends on is the First Amendment not necessarily journalism. Journalism is fine as long as they’re actually adhering to the First Amendment.”

Sounds OK, or does it?

Actually, what the First Amendment says is the exact opposite. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Our Founding Fathers were not laying down the law to control or direct the press. They were not asking the press to adhere to the law. Our Founding Fathers were laying down the law to control government. The First Amendment demands the government adhere to the law.

The First Amendment, Jim, says that you, an elected representative of the government, are attempting to break the law by trying to direct, control or limit journalism.

A free press is part of the idea made manifest. What if the power of that idea is the overwhelming number of citizens who believe in it? How then do you overthrow the government?

Create an environment in which it is difficult to know what to believe. Make it impossible to discern truth from fiction.

In another piece of wisdom often misattributed to Twain, C. H. Spurgeon wrote that, “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” With the internet, Malcolm Nance said, “lies can literally fly around the world at the speed of light.”

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That is a hard environment in which to navigate and know what to believe. In such an environment, we might elect leaders who manipulate us. We might allow leaders to remain in power who, when they listen, they willfully misunderstand; when they speak, they willfully mislead.

After the seventh and last book in her Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling was asked if there really is magic. Amazingly, Rowling answered yes.

“Words are … magic.” She said.

Words soothe, enlighten, change a mood, lift the spirits and motivate the best in us. That is magic. There are also words with darker powers — the power to undermine, deflate, frighten and break a heart. Words can confuse and manipulate or enlighten and empower.

Is freedom of speech license to kill the American dream? Will we allow that?

Tucker Carlson asks, “White supremacy; what does that really mean?”

Well, Tucker, it really means exactly what it says. White supremacy is a philosophy wherein whites are superior to everybody else. The better question is: Why ask?

The solution is inherent in the correct definition of the problem. Sound complex? Not really. Ask any car mechanic. The mechanic will explain you can’t fix the ignition by replacing the wiper blades. You have to correctly define the problem. Tucker would rather you did not. To dissuade you, he asks the question repeatedly, and turns the repetition into derision. It dissuades definition of the problem and thereby impedes finding a solution.

Actually, what our government depends upon is the balance of power between the branches of government to ensure that the power of the people is not diminished. The underpinning of it all is the people’s right to vote.

They are attempting to steal much. To steal our rights; steal our reason. To steal our unity; steal our understanding. To steal our form of government; steal our words. And that — stealing our words — may be the greatest theft of all. The words articulate the idea which was the crowning glory of the Age of Enlightenment. The words were “all men are created equal … endowed with inalienable rights.”

Words matter.

Carole Owens, a writer and historian, is a regular Eagle contributor.