The Next Crisis – The President’s Impeachment and Free Speech

Bernie Diaz, January 14, 2021

If there were any doubt that Donald J. Trump could go down as the single most controversial president in American history- certainly modern history, the on-going events of just the last week seemed to confirm the notion.

Not only was the incumbent and outgoing president blamed for inciting the Capitol Hill riot last week which resulted in five deaths and the desecration of government property – leading to dozens of arrests and investigations to come, he also become the first president to be impeached twice in one term, as well as the first chief executive to alter the very course of social media. Really? All that in one week?

As sure is the divided state of America right now. Consider the consequences and ramifications of Trump’s “Save America” speech, the Capitol break-in and subsequent tweets:

  • The President has been personally banned, suspended or canceled from social media by the tech giants of our nation (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook) as well as his YouTube channel.

Those actions have influenced millions of Americans – many of them Trump supporters over the last 72 hours or so, to cancel or switch their social media accounts – predominantly Twitter, on the basis of “free speech” concerns as ‘Trumpian’ like speech which had been closely monitored for some time, has now been abolished for all intents and purposes by Silicon Valley.

  • The nation’s House of Representatives, led by the majority Democratic party, voted to impeach President Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” just one week before leaving office, saying he “willfully made statements that encouraged—and foreseeably resulted in—imminent lawless action at the Capitol.”

They also voted to approve a resolution calling on Vice President Mike Pence to remove Trump from office under the 25th Amendment of the Constitution – which he rejected.

As to the president’s latest impeachment scandal, the disingenuous and politically partisan motive behind the initiative – made without due process via congressional hearings as per usual, seems clear enough to me: remove Donald Trump from the White House at any and all costs, in order to further tarnish his presidency, reputation and its legacy, with the intent to keep him from ever holding public office again (if the U.S. Congress has their way with help from embattled and Trump-frustrated Republicans).

Indeed, this impeachment stands as the culmination of efforts from the left to taint if not remove this President from office since his inauguration, as their never having seen him as worthy of election in 2016.

Political machinations aside, the implications of these two developments- still fluid, bring a great many challenges of thought to Americans in general and biblically minded Christians in particular.

First off, what are evangelical Christians – of whom nine out of every ten may have voted for Trump’s re-election, make of his presidency?

On the one hand, he appointed constitutionally faithful Supreme Court and Federal Justices as promised, enacted a record pre-COVID economic recovery, refunded and reformed much of the military, opposed Communist China and Cuba, supported Israel and helped broker a peace agreement in the Middle East, as well as standing legislatively and rhetorically for the kingdom causes of life and liberty- including the religious sort.

On the other hand, Christians have to juxtapose the president’s above accomplishments- as considerable as they are from a biblical worldview, with his failure to communicate well the seriousness of the pandemic, seeming insensitivity to last summer’s racial unrest and more recently, his never-ending attempts to derail Congress from certifying the election results (fraudulent claims notwithstanding), which have been now linked to encouraging an act of domestic terrorism, making the president unfit for office according to a growing number of American citizens.

A new poll published by ABC News found that 56% of those surveyed want Trump to be removed before Inauguration Day. A higher figure – 67% – blame the commander-in-chief for the riots in Washington this week.

Interestingly enough, only 13% of Republicans agree. In fact, 61% of Republicans believe Trump did nothing wrong. Hmmm…

What do we make of this divide and dilemma? Many Christian voters and citizens I know have been torn in patriotic passion to support the President’s policies, while struggling with what to do with or make constant apologies for, his many personal character flaws.

Many evangelical voters like myself chose to deemphasize the character factor if not overlook it in this past election, prioritizing the content of the president’s platform of policies for the nation’s greater good. I have no regrets in having made that binary type decision under the circumstances and available choice.

However, I still wince when considering the compromise disciples like me have had to make with our biblical and ethical values in defending the very unchristian words he has uttered over the course of his presidency. What message have we sent to a secular and skeptical culture looking for Christian consistency?

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29, ESV).

Has pro-Trump patriotism – ‘a love for or devotion to the United States,’ so often symbolized at Trump rallies and in social media posting, turned dangerously to a cult-like nationalism for some, which in the modern sense of the word, refers to a politically geared and almost blind devotion to a country that has perhaps competed with the believer’s allegiance to our one and only King and Messiah? That is a question some Christians as ‘citizens of heaven,’ will be wrestling with for some time.

What About Social Media?

Most Christians are on social media, many enjoy the sense of the connection to community that it can bring and the digital seat that it offers at the marketplace of ideas. While some others are intensely devoted if not addicted to it, using it as a greater means of information and communication than even their Bibles, reliable new sources (admittedly few) and face to face social interaction.

Though I have been hesitant to weigh in on the impact of social media on our society and the church up to now, the current controversy and possible constitutional crisis over the President’s usage of social media and free speech, is forcing Christians to rethink their positions and the platforms they use online, as well as my attempt at a measured worldview response.

After Twitter banned Donald Trump for life last weekend, many of his supporters left the platform for the conservative-friendly social media site Parler. However, Google then suspended Parler from its app store, Apple threatened to do the same if the platform did not police posts that might incite violence and Amazon followed suit, proceeding to cut the site off from its web hosting service.

The implications of these actions have called into question the possible monopoly of speech taking place on the internet and whether government may have to intervene and police this action at some point in the future.

Moreover, the debate over the first amendment right to free speech has now taken on a whole new meaning in light of this current chaos.   

Did the President step over the line marking out the right of free speech with his speech last Wednesday? If he did and would be found guilty in an appropriate court of law having “incited insurrection,” leading to the Capitol riots, It would be right for the Senate to convict him.

The House’s articles of impeachment against the President, also have alleged that he committed acts of sedition or treason against the U.S. for having “repeatedly issued false statements asserting that the presidential election results were the product of widespread fraud and should not be accepted by the American people or certified by State or Federal officials.”

Frankly, the latter charge has never been proven since Congress has failed up to now, to even investigate at any meaningful level, the White House’s claims of voter fraud and “irregularities,” thereby rendering the President’s allegations and calls to “Stop the Steal,” as little more than politically incorrect opinion which may be supported to some degree by factual evidence.

So, we are left with the matter of free speech which is somewhat complicated for Christians. In what way?

Though I cherish our constitutions bill of rights and the amendment meant to guarantee free speech – including the right to freely preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in church and in the public square (for the most part), I realize that this absolute right is not guaranteed biblically to followers of Christ.

The kingdom of God is advancing and truth is being proclaimed throughout the world and in some of its most oppressive governments, with and without social media access and the “right” to free speech (e.g. Syria, No. Korea, China, Cuba) as the apostles did in the early church era.

Do I believe that the President of the United States violated the law governing free speech with his words leading up to the protestor’s advance on the Capitol? The answer to that question would largely determine whether or not the House of Representatives justly impeached him. My answer from a face value interpretation of the law, would be no.

Even hate speech (i.e. the KKK) and politically unpopular speech is protected by the amendment as being ‘free,’ in order to facilitate open political and moral discourse in our nation as part and parcel of being part of a democratic republic. Having heard and read the President’s speech more than once, I have not found a direct or explicit incitement or call to a violent protest in it.

That said, do I think some of the President’s words were irresponsible, inappropriate and even reckless? Yes, in that they may influenced the behavior of some of his more ardent supporters to illegally advance on the Capitol. That would not however, constitute a ‘high crime or misdemeanor’ in and of itself. Then again, this is not the first time that President Trump’s words have led to consequences.

What does all this mean to the follower of Christ and his or her social media use?

Whether or not one chooses to be engaged in social media I take to be an issue of personal liberty in conscience in utilizing great wisdom, since the topic is not explicitly dealt with in scripture, making it more of a gray rather than a black and white issue.

Christians should dig into the principles of scripture and the patterns and practices governing moral behavior and ethics found therein, in order to make informed, God-glorifying and Christ-exalting application and decisions here.

Can or should a Christian move or cancel their Twitter or Facebook or other social media accounts? For some the answer will be yes, for others no and condemnation of another’s decision either way is not an option.

After all, many of us may now be thinking about how much time we spend on social media and why, and may be deciding to reduce if not eliminate it from our entertainment or relational diets altogether, as many Christians that I know, already have. That is a worth-while assessment for some to make.

The motive to make much of Christ, to love others and as Micah 6:8 would put it, ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God,’ should be primary. If we are to engage in political and ethical discourse online with others- particularly those that do not know Christ as Lord and savior, it should be to help and not hurt or hinder their introduction to the grace of God.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col. 4:6).

If only the President would have followed that Biblical advice. Lord have mercy on our nation (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

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