Trump Administration Just Shut Down Free Speech

For more than six years, Americans have had an online outlet through which they could send their voices to Washington, D.C. in unison on various topics through the petition system hosted on the official White House website. It is intended as a platform by which, if a particular petition gathered enough steam — and signatures — it would then be passed on to the powers that be for review and possible action.

In the five years after Barack Obama launched the “We The People” portion of the site toward the end of his presidency, around 350 petitions gathered enough signatures to warrant a response from the administration. In order to prevent silly petitions like “I want a pony” or “Republicans should be illegal” from wasting space on the site, thresholds were set: 150 signatures within a month to even be searchable on the site or 100,000 signatures in the same period to get a response from the administration.

Some actually did, in fact. And while a bit of silliness did make it through — notably a petition for the US government to build a Death Star, which was rejected over budgetary (and sci-fi) concerns — most of the petitions have been serious, and most of them went answered by the previous administration. At least one that I can think of made it all the way through to Congress, where a bill was written based on a petition to make “unlocking” cell phones legal. You’ll note that it is now legal, and that the petition actually worked.

That kind of efficacy must have scared the Trump administration, however.

In January, immediately after Trump’s inauguration, existing petitions on the site were archived — that is to say, deactivated and stuck in a virtual file box, never to be thought of again.

That’s unfortunate, because the platform was widely used by marginalized groups who generally don’t have a forum in public or otherwise to make their voices heard as a group. LGBTQ+ activists once secured enough signatures, for example, to get President Obama to call for an end to “conversion therapy,” a form of religion-based psychotherapy that uses torture to “turn” gay people into heterosexuals.

But despite the fact that since January at least 16 petitions made it to the 100,000 signature threshold as of last month, Trump has yet to respond to a single one. Perhaps he got off on the wrong foot with the system, since the first petition to meet the required number after his inauguration was one calling for him to release his taxes.

Regardless, nobody needs to worry about it anymore — Team Trump has shut it down.

The White House insists that the removal of the public redress system is temporary, but we can’t help but feel like they’ll never bring it back. After all, they deactivated everything from the pre-Trump era and have sat on everything post-inauguration anyway. It’s clear they have no intention of seeking public input on anything, since Trump is still relying on his (electoral) win a year ago to claim that America supports his decisions. Poll after poll shows that support for Trump has been steadily declining since he took office, and that he currently has the lowest approval rating held by any president in their first year in office ever in American history.

Our guess is, this won’t go over well either.