Unique time in First Amendment orthodoxy
Reviewed by Carolyn Schurr Levin
Watching and listening to Donald Trump both at his rallies during the 2016 presidential campaign and then after he became President, Timothy Zick, the John Marshall Professor of Government and Citizenship at William & Mary School of Law, felt that he wanted to chronicle the onslaught of attacks on the First Amendment that he was hearing. Although previous presidents had certainly had terrible relationships with the press, the assaults on journalists as “enemies of the people,” denying reporters access to press briefings because of negative coverage, blocking critics on Twitter, vowing to “take a look at the libel laws,” suggesting that flag burners be jailed, the war on truth, and so much more, felt decidedly different to Zick. He was observing systematic efforts “to undermine the press’ credibility and to turn the public against the media.” And, so Professor Zick set out to chronicle those First Amendment assaults. The result is his recently published, comprehensive and highly readable new book, “The First Amendment in the Trump Era.”
Lest you have tuned out the noise, the book is highly critical of the Trump administration’s approach to the First Amendment. No matter what side of the political spectrum on which you fall, though, this book can truly educate you about this unique time in First Amendment orthodoxy.
Unlike Professor Zick’s three previous books, which primarily targeted an academic audience, this book is pitched to “a wider audience and a broader discourse” about its subject matter. Not only is it intended for those interested in the attacks on freedom of the press in the last several years, but also for those who want to learn more about the history and social benefits of dissent in the United States. Indeed, I found the chapter dedicated to dissent to be the most enlightening. There are “many serious challenges to protecting dissent and maintaining a culture of dissent” now, Professor Zick writes, and “we need to have a plan of attack to deal with [President Trump’s] anti-dissent agenda and to preserve a culture of dissent moving forward.” Democracy thrives “when there is noise and disagreement, not conformity and consensus,” Zick says, arguing for the “active facilitation and encouragement” of the tolerance for dissent. Rather than feeling compelled to “choose sides,” people “must feel free to speak out” without being labeled “disloyal enemies.” Continue reading “Book Review: ‘The First Amendment in the Trump Era,’ by Timothy Zick”