Former President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a series of aggressive and ambitious proposals to undo what he characterized as the suppression of free speech in the United States if he is elected president in 2024.
Trump, who lost his White House reelection bid in 2020, promised in a videotaped address that he would target government agencies and employees, universities and tech companies with a series of executive orders and policies aimed at their purported censorship of speech and ideas.
Among other things, Trump vowed to “ban federal money from being used to label domestic speech as ‘mis-‘ or ‘dis-information,'” including federal subsidies and student loan support for universities.
“The censorship cartel must be dismantled and destroyed and it must happen immediately,” said the Republican, who is prone to linguistic hyperbole and over-promising when announcing plans.
“When I’m president, this whole rotten system of censorship and information control will be ripped out of the system at large. There won’t be anything left,” he said.
Trump and other right-wing figures have for years claimed they are the victims of efforts to limit their speech by purported “deep-state” actors, mainstream media outlets and social media companies.
Those claims gained added fuel in recent weeks with the release earlier this month of what Twitter CEO Elon Musk called the “Twitter files” to support claims that the company’s prior management handled content moderation in a way that was biased against conservatives. Twitter released the internal communications to a handful of conservative writers, who published a series of tweets detailing the social media company’s decision before the 2020 election to temporarily suppress a New York Post story about the contents of a laptop owned by Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden.
Musk has even gone so far as to say that Twitter, which he bought in October, interfered with U.S. elections. Twitter didn’t respond to requests for the records from CNBC and The New York Times.
Some studies have found that, despite claims of a liberal-leaning Twitter censoring conservatives, the social media platform elevated conservative news and voices over liberal content.
Trump said that “within hours of my inauguration” he would sign an executive order banning federal agencies “from colluding” with others to censor or otherwise limit lawful speech by individuals.
He also said he would begin a process to identify and fire “every federal bureaucrat who has engaged in domestic censorship.”
And he said he would order the Department of Justice “to investigate all parties involved in the new online censorship regime, which is absolutely destructive and terrible, and to aggressively prosecute any and all crimes identified.”
“These include possible violations of federal civil rights law, campaign finance laws, federal election law, securities law and antitrust laws, the Hatch Act, and a host of other potential criminal civil regulatory and constitutional offenses,” he said.
Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at University of Mary Washington, dismissed Trump’s proposals as “something to generate energy among his supporters” after a soggy campaign kickoff.
“This is not a plan that would ever succeed legislatively or judicially if it came to that,” Farnsworth said in an interview. He said Trump was “trying to change the narrative” after many of his handpicked candidates lost high-profile races in the recent midterm elections.
“The former president’s fast and loose connection with the truth makes him a poor choice to dictate the terms of discourse in the country,” Farnsworth added.
Ian Ostrander, associate political science professor at Michigan State University, said that if Trump were elected again, he “could certainly use tools such as executive orders to creatively alter government policy.”
“But making drastic and enduring changes can be hard using just unilateral powers,” Ostrander wrote in an email to CNBC.
Trump on Thursday also reiterated his long-standing desire for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects websites from being sued over content posted by their users.
Just as there is no guarantee that Trump will be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024 — or that he would win a general election contest — there is no guarantee that he can or would follow through on any or all of the promises in the plan he announced Thursday.
When he was president, Trump was frustrated by his inability to force the Department of Justice to do things he wanted done, such as taking steps to reverse his election loss to Biden, and was enraged by the department appointing a special counsel, Robert Mueller, to investigate his 2016 campaign’s contact with Russians.
And when Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act in late 2020 because the bill did not include the elimination of Section 230, Congress overrode that veto.
— CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.