Donald Trump suddenly cares about flag burning. Though Trump has never mentioned burning the American flag before, he has created a new debate by tweeting that flag burning should be banned. This position puts him at odds with the late conservative justice, Antonin Scalia.
“Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Trump said on Twitter. There is no indication why Trump chose this time to highlight the topic of flag burning. His suggestion to deprive flag burners of citizenship has come out of nowhere.
Though Trump’s tweets should not be seen as an indication of legislative priorities, his comments have highlighted Trump’s ideological differences with traditional conservative Republicans. Justice Antonin Scalia, who died this year, was categorically against banning flag burning.
For Scalia and other conservatives who share his view of the Constitution, flag burning is a form of free speech that cannot be restricted. Attempts to ban flag burning have run afoul of constitutional challenges and an effort to amend the Constitution to ban desecration of the flag was narrowly defeated.
Though burning the American flag is distasteful to most Americans, there appears to be little appetite for legal action. Most people simply do not see flag burning as a major issue, particularly with worries about unemployment and trade. But Trump is once again playing to his base. Many grassroots Trump supporters would welcome action to punish flag burning and other forms of ‘disrespect’ toward the country’s symbols.
Trump has praised Justice Scalia repeatedly but he differs from him on fundamental constitutional questions. Scalia’s interpretation of the Constitution emphasized the literal word of the document and he was wary of changing it for political purposes.