Reminder: Donald Trump supported flag burning back in 2015

Surprise: Trump's views changed a lot based on who he was talking to and what he was seeing

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published December 1, 2016 5:51PM (EST)

 (AP/Evan Vucci)
(AP/Evan Vucci)

President-elect Donald Trump may currently advocate revoking the citizenship of or jailing individuals who burn the American flag, but as footage of an interview with David Letterman reveals, he held the exact opposite position less than two years ago.

As The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, Trump appeared on The Late Show on Jan. 8, 2015. During his segment, Trump said that Letterman was “100 percent right” when he defended flag-burning as a form of freedom of expression. He even told Letterman that "“I understand where you’re coming from."

Four months later, in June 2015, Trump announced his campaign for the presidency.

The considerable amount of time that elapsed between Trump's interview with Letterman may explain why his statement defending First Amendment freedoms has slipped people's minds. Nevertheless, it directly contradicts a now-infamous tweet that Trump sent out on Tuesday, possibly after watching a Fox News piece about the act of protest.

As Salon's own Jeremy Binckes pointed out on Tuesday, Trump's position violates legal precedent that has been settled for quite some time. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia once put it, “If I were king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment."

Professor Eugene Volokh from the UCLA School of Law explained why flag burning is protected by the First Amendment in an op-ed for The Washington Post on Tuesday.

"The treatment of symbolic expression as equivalent with verbal expression makes historical sense as well as logical sense, because Framing-era English and American political culture was rich with symbolic expression, used interchangeably with words," Volokh wrote. He later added that "it makes sense that the Supreme Court’s protection of symbolic expression dates back to the very first Supreme Court decision striking down any government action on free speech or free press grounds. The Court in that 1931 case casually assumed that symbolic expression was as protected as verbal expression, and treated the display of a red flag as legally tantamount to antigovernment speech. But its assumption was consistent with the First Amendment’s original meaning: the equivalence of symbolic expression and verbal expression has been part of American law since the Framing era."


By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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David Letterman Donald Trump First Amendment Flag Burning