Authors of dystopian novels across the globe were proven wrong last week when, in the face of controversial government decisions, the resistance was led not by a teenager from a lower class family, but by the Badlands National Park via its social media accounts.
Last week, newly minted President Donald Trump issued what has been widely regarded as a gag order to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services mandating employees refrain from posting on social media, sending news releases and uploading blog posts or website content. In addition, he “purged nearly all mention of climate change programs from the White House and State Department websites,” according to the New York Times, temporarily froze grant spending for several government agencies including the EPA. and placed restrictions on employees’ abilities to speak with the news media.
In response to Trump’s restrictions, the Badlands National Park posted a series of tweets about climate change, which were later removed, and “rogue” or “alt” accounts for many major governmental organizations emerged across the Twitterverse, posting copiously about climate change, environmental issues and Trump’s new policies.
When viewed as an individual instance, Trump’s restriction of information is not that dire an issue. Thinking globally, it is not even the most controversial decision to have come from the president’s office since his inauguration.
Should we so desire, we can access information about climate change and environmental issues on dozens of websites across all reaches of the internet; we could even venture into a library should we find ourselves absolutely starved for facts. No, it is not the action itself that is worrying — it is the underlying current of stifled speech and redacted information behind the restrictions that should leave us concerned.
One of the central tenets on which America was founded is the idea of freedom of speech and information. Articles by the New York Times and Politico are careful to point out that attempting to exercise control over agencies that are, by law, under the president’s jurisdiction is not uncommon in the early days of a presidency. However, Trump’s actions have left some Americans with a sense of foreboding that has driven the George Orwell classic “1984,” which centers on a totalitarian regime that limits freedom of speech and thought, to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list. These inter-governmental restrictions on the output of information carry with them a feeling of trepidation — if Trump restricts the speech of environmental agencies with which he has been known to disagree, will he next move to curb the media he has spent his campaign demonizing? And from there, will he attempt to bend the laws regarding our abilities as citizens to speak out against policies and public figures we believe are in error?
We have the First Amendment. We have laws protecting our rights to free speech, to public assembly, to petitioning the government. At present, Trump has not moved to act against those laws, and perhaps he won’t, but it is our responsibility to stand for our liberties now, before this devolves into a real issue. It is up to us to be vocal in our concern about the president’s decisions and hold the president to the highest possible standard regarding our right to free speech. Muzzling officials in government agencies the way Trump has is by no means illegal, but in the midst of this tumultuous transition period, it is a decision that seems perilously close to broader regulations limiting free speech on a national scale.
Speak up, America. Make your opinions known, or else you just might find you’ve lost the right.