Prologue: Any writing about political candidates engenders a reaction in the intellectually challenged that if you don’t condemn the candidate they hate, you support him or her. I don’t support any of the candidates running for president. I’m appalled that in this nation, these are the best we can manage.
That said, Donald Trump is the candidate with the worst grasp of law, governance, history and logic. This, apparently, is why people support him, as he reflects their anger toward the political process and its mechanics. Anger and ignorance is not a good foundation for the presidency. Whether he will be nominated, and elected, has yet to be seen. But it has served to give him more space in the New York Times than any candidate could reasonably expect, which has done more to bolster his candidacy than the Times (which appears to despise Trump, though it does everything in its power to aid his candidacy) could imagine.
The Trump rally in Chicago turned ugly. This time toward Trump, rather than some trailer park hero sucker punching a protester or a secret service agent body-slamming a photographer. The New York Times blames Trump.
The anger from both sides was so raw, they concluded — from supporters of Donald J. Trump who are terrified they are losing their country and from protesters who fear he is leading the nation down a dark road of hate — that a dreaded moment was starting to look inevitable. “I don’t see where that anger goes,” the historian Heather Cox Richardson predicted a few weeks ago, “except into violence.”
And Mr. Trump’s rivals in both parties denounced his candidacy as the match that lit the fire, even as they try to harness the same electoral forces that have turned him into the Republican front-runner. “Donald Trump has created a toxic environment,” Gov. John Kasich of Ohio declared. “There is no place for a national leader to prey on the fears of people.”
Senator Marco Rubio, fighting for his political life in Florida’s primary on Tuesday, likened Mr. Trump to a third-world strongman. Hillary Clinton accused Mr. Trump of committing “political arson,” saying that “the ugly, divisive rhetoric we are hearing from Donald Trump and the encouragement of violence and aggression is wrong, and it’s dangerous.”
The rhetoric has broken the irony meter, though it would be fair to say that Trump started the war of words. But this is America, and Donald Trump is running for president. He’s allowed to say whatever he wants to say, no matter how stupid and divisive. Same goes for his supporters. Same goes for the other candidates, the pundits and everyone who hates Trump.
The question is whether speech can be twisted into a justification for violence. On this issue, the action/reaction has been a litmus test for America, and we’re doing extremely poorly. The connection between the two things, Trump’s ascendency as a candidate and his opposition’s use of his own “toxic” speech as a justification for violence, explains a lot.
First, there is no justification whatsoever for the violence by Trump supporters against anyone. That government agents are complicit in it is an outrage. That some thug punched a protester is criminal. That Trump finds support in people like this speaks volumes as to his worthiness to be president. It’s fucking
nuts [ableist slur].
But even Trump is entitled to speak, no matter what you think of what he has to say. If it doesn’t fit the legal definition of incitement to violence, then it’s protected speech. And it’s obviously political speech, for better or worse. That some of his supporters, who defy Darwinism, engage in violence does not strip Trump of his right to speak. That Trump has zero appreciation for the First Amendment doesn’t either. Yes, irony, but there is no knowledge requirement for the exercise of First Amendment rights.
What about the protesters at Trump’s rallies? What about their free speech? Well, they too have the right to speak, and to protest Trump all they want, without fear of violence. What they do not have is the right to do so within the confines of a Trump rally. It’s a private affair, even though it’s a political rally, with invitees being those who support Trump. No, that doesn’t mean they are subject to physical violence for entering, but it also doesn’t mean they have a right to be inside a private affair to protest.
Presidential campaigns have long flirted with the lexicon of violence, as candidates vow to take the country back from the opposing party in the White House and reclaim an endangered vision of America.
But this year’s campaign has distinguished itself by the sheer volume of heated words, led primarily by Mr. Trump, and by actual scenes of physical confrontation.
Trump’s detractors are angry. Trump’s supporters are angry. Everybody is angry. And if you don’t think Trump isn’t loving the fact that he suddenly matters to everyone, that his brand is on everyone’s lips, you don’t get Trump.
But they wiggle between rhetoric and violence, as even the forces of “tolerance” show how easily they’re goaded. You do realize that Trump is just trolling you, right? He’s pandering to his base (and I use that word in all its definitions) supporters.
On Saturday, in a rally at an airplane hangar near Dayton, not long after he had mocked a protester being escorted out — “Go back to mommy,” he said — a man jumped a security barrier and rushed toward the stage.
No matter how outrageous and absurd a scene it was, a presidential candidate mocking a protester, saying “Go back to mommy,” it’s not fighting words. No, you don’t get to decide it is, because you’re so angry and hate him so much. No, not even because you’re certain he deserves it. Just no.
“You can’t dial back the emotions he’s excited in people easily,” [Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and a cabinet member in the administration of George W. Bush] said in an interview. “There will be consequences for that.”
There should be consequences for that. At the voting booth. At protests. With better speech than the crap speech we’ve heard thus far. But not violence on either side.
Epilogue: Trump is not the problem. Trump is the symptom. There is deep anger in America directed toward politicians, political parties and the dysfunction of government. And the fact that the other Republican candidates, despite their rhetoric now, have sworn to support Trump if he wins the nomination is as cynical as it gets, and demonstrates exactly what people hate about politicians and parties.
It won’t end with Trump’s election or the election of another candidate. Adding violence to this mix solves nothing. It’s said we get the government we deserve. When we use rhetoric to justify violence, we don’t deserve much.