Trump on flag burning: "There must be consequences"

Donald Trump declared on Twitter Tuesday morning that nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag, and further, he said, there “must be consequences.”

Perhaps offenders should lose their citizenship or serve a year in jail, he proposed. 

It’s impossible to say what prompted the tweet, though some wondered whether it had something to do with an early morning television segment that aired around the time of the tweet. It was about veterans who were demonstrating against a school’s decision to stop flying flags, after students had reportedly burned a flag to protest Trump’s victory.

In any case, the Twittersphere was quick to weigh in, with some pointing out flaws in his remedy:

In 1989, a divided Supreme Court ruled that flag burning is protected by the First Amendment and is not illegal.

That said, there were plenty of people who agreed with Mr. Trump’s sentiment, among them, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. He told CNN, “I do not approve of burning the flag. I think there should be some punishment,” although he acknowledged, “The Supreme Court decision is that people are free to express themselves that way.” 

McCain, like the Twitter user below, is offended by what burning the flag says to those who risk and give their lives to defend it.

Others, including the National Review’s Charles Cooke, pointed out that Hillary Clinton once cosponsored legislation that would have outlawed flag burning and called for one of the ideas for punishment proposed by Mr. Trump -- a year in jail. 

However, Clinton’s proposal was written to skirt the free speech argument -- it targeted cases of destroying a flag with intent to incite violence. The bill was never passed.

The other suggestion Mr. Trump’s tweet - that offenders should lose their citizenship - is also illegal. The government can’t strip the citizenship of U.S. citizens born in the U.S. and its territories, under protections afforded by the Fourteenth Amendment.

But others warn that the flag burning tweets are just a feint, a distraction from questions about his conflicts of interest. Commentary Magazine’s Noah Rothman argued that Trump uses Twitter to get the nation into “familiar fits of emotional pique over settled arguments” -- like flag burning -- while he “manages to evade broader scrutiny over his complex conflicts of interest, none of which he seems all that eager to resolve and some which could put the country on a collision course toward a constitutional crisis.”

Rothman pointed out that the tweet, which was published early Tuesday morning, comes on the heels of a story published in Government Executive about Trump’s recently opened Washington, D.C. hotel, which Rothman notes, makes a pretty damning argument that “Trump may have to give it up.”

Government Executive’s Steve Schooner and Daniel Gordon reveal in their story that Mr. Trump’s new hotel presents “intolerable conflicts of interest,” if you read the way the contract with the government is written. The General Services Administration (GSA) contract states, “No ... elected official of the Government of the United States ... shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom...” 

In other words, the moment Donald Trump is inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, 2017, he will violate the lease. He is the chairman and majority stakeholder of the company which owns the hotel.