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Trump ignites debate over free speech and inflammatory language

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A protester shows off ripped Donald Trump campaign signs after it was announced the rally for the Republican presidential candidate was cancelled at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (Chris Sweda/Tribune News Service)

A protester shows off ripped Donald Trump campaign signs after it was announced the rally for the Republican presidential candidate was cancelled at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Friday, March 11, 2016. (Chris Sweda/Tribune News Service)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by Donald Trump.

No, Trump wasn’t a queen bee in “Mean Girls,” but at this point, its unlikely there’s a demographic in America Donald Trump hasn’t offended. His comments over the years — most notably, throughout his presidential campaign — have ranged from sexist to racist to xenophobic. And the pattern of responding to Trump’s outlandish statements has become almost formulaic: Trump falls out of the top headlines for five minutes. Trump says something at a rally, in an interview or through a tweet that the majority of Americans find absolutely despicable. Every major news outlet in the country dissects the situation for days on end. Repeat the process.

This formula has proven utterly successful as Trump receives far more free media coverage than any other candidate in the presidential race. According to a study by mediaQuant, the media analytics firm that tracks “earned media” or unpaid third-party content in newspapers, television, etc., the Trump campaign has received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage over the course of his campaign. Meanwhile, he’s spent only $10 million on advertisements. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has received the second most in earned media with $746 million. That’s less than half of what Trump has earned.

Admittedly, some of his publicity stunts have been hilarious. Remember when Jeb Bush’s staff somehow forgot to renew ownership of his domain name, jebbush.com? Trump’s staffers bought the website name and made it so those searching for Bush’s website would be redirected to donaldjtrump.com.

But Trump’s biggest gimmick is thriving off the backlash of his statements many consider hateful. When he cancelled his March 11 rally in Chicago after thousands of protestors gathered outside the UIC Pavilion and in the arena, Trump’s camp immediately set up an interview with MSNBC where he said he cancelled the event after consulting with the Chicago Police Department (CPD). While it later came out the CPD did not advise Trump to cancel his rally, and actually guaranteed him the police department could ensure his and the audience’s safety, he successfully used the protests to made himself a martyr, claiming the allegedly violent protestors were infringing on his constitutional right to freedom of speech. His supporters agreed, and some have taken a stand through “The Chalkening.”

The Chalkening is the name given to the current movement of college-age Trump supporters writing pro-Trump messages like “Make America great again” and “Blue lives matter” on university campuses across the country. The movement finally made its way to DePaul April 5, organized by the DePaul College Republicans. The chalk was swiftly washed away by campus ground crews.

In a tweet, DePaul College Republicans President Nicole Been expressed discontent with the university’s reaction to the pro-Trump messages.

"Blue Lives Matter" was chalked by College Republicans on campus earlier this month. Phrases like this and "Build a wall" sparked a controversy on campus regarding free speech and racism.  (Photo courtesy of DEPAUL COLLEGE REPUBLICANS)

“Blue Lives Matter” was chalked by College Republicans on campus earlier this month. Phrases like this and “Build a wall” sparked a controversy on campus regarding free speech and racism. (Photo courtesy of DEPAUL COLLEGE REPUBLICANS)

“Thanks @DePaulU for limiting the free speech of all those who disagree with your agenda,” she tweeted. “Chalk is all washed away by this morning.”

It is university policy that chalking is allowed outside the Student Center. However, the policy states that “messages may not contain profanity or may not abuse, assail, intimidate, demean, victimize or have the effect of creating a hostile environment for any person or group of people based on any of the protected characteristics in the University’s Anti-Discriminatory Harassment Policy.”

Whether or not the pro-Trump messages created a hostile environment is up for debate, but it is worth noting that when DePaul’s Amnesty International group drew chalk outlines in the quad of slain bodies as part of a police brutality protest those drawings, too, were erased by campus ground crews.

Been also expressed shock over the immediate outrage many DePaul students and faculty felt after seeing the messages written in chalk by DePaul College Republicans.

“I am surprised by the assumptions people are making about our intent and who we are as people is not reflected by what others are calling us,” she wrote. “I can say all assumptions on the pages I’ve seen are false about timing and intent.”

Although Trump supporters absolutely have the right to express their political beliefs just like any other American, the fact that these messages were written in the dark of the night makes it seem as though controversy was the goal of The Chalkening. Furthermore, the biggest of the messages was “BUILD A WALL” written just outside the Kenmore Avenue entrance to the Student Center.

But just because a message is inflammatory does not mean it is not covered by the First Amendment. Just as Trump supporters have the right to voice support for their candidate, those who oppose him have the right to protest his rallies.

DePaul senior George Robert is an avid Trump supporter.

“I think everyone has a right to their own opinion, but sometimes people forget that it’s just that, an opinion,” Robert said. “(It’s) not something that needs to be shoved down someone’s throat or accepted by all. I think people show their support in different ways in the same way they show their disapproval. That being said, I wouldn’t go to a Bernie Sanders event and ‘practice’ my first amendment (right) by telling Bernie that he is a horrible man, he does this, that, and the other.”

That may be Robert’s prerogative, but opponents of Trump that choose to protest his rallies have just as much a claim on the First Amendment as his supporters do to vocalize their support for the Republican candidate. What is counterproductive is the Sanders, Clinton, Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz supporters who continue to share outrage online every time Trump says something slightly offensive. They are basically funding his campaign’s media coverage.

Instead of attacking Trump for his predictable statements denouncing Muslims, Mexicans and women, his opponents should target his unrealistic policy proposals.

Trump’s estimate that funding the wall will require $12 billion — a dramatic increase from his initial claim it will cost $4 billion ­— is far off, according to experts. The Washington Post hired a retired estimator and economist for one of the largest construction firms in the U.S. According to this expert, who asked to remain anonymous, the wall would cost $25 billion, excluding maintenance.

Trump supporters have the right as Americans to voice their opinion and share their political beliefs. Whether you agree with them or not is irrelevant. Instead of sharing every questionable comment Trump makes, focus on his actual positions and how they would impact millions of Americans. Or just pay him no mind at all.

The cool kids are nothing without attention.

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Trump ignites debate over free speech and inflammatory language