Trump, Speech and the Crucible of Anger

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.


30 thoughts on “Trump, Speech and the Crucible of Anger

  1. Marc Whipple

    Trump may very well lose at the convention even if he gets a plurality of votes. And he will almost certainly lose a general election.

    My fear is that when that happens the Good and Proper people, and the party hierarchy, will say, “Whew! Dodged a bullet there!” Then they’ll add superdelegates to the Republican system so This Can Never Happen Again, and write it off as an aberration. The Zeitgeist rose up, but we called our spiffy new Ghostbusters (metaphor intended) and they took care of it.

    But they will not have addressed the 600 pound Twinkie that gave rise to that ghost. In fact, they will have made it *bigger*. “Look, we got close to electing somebody we actually wanted to win, and they rigged the election to make him lose and then they rigged the process to make sure it doesn’t happen again!”

    Violence is the first refuge of the scoundrel, but the last refuge of the hopeless. Trump is not the only scoundrel who can convince the hopeless that his first refuge is now their only refuge. In fact, he’s not very good at it at all. If we don’t address the underlying problem, next time a GOOD scoundrel will come along, and we will be longing for that laughable cloud-haired clown. Or even worse, we won’t.

      1. Marc Whipple

        I don’t care for him, but then I don’t care for any of the candidates, so at least I am evenhanded about it.

        And I don’t assume he won’t win: I find it unlikely, but there are levels of probability.

        Frankly, I think it will hinge on the ratio of people who fear Trump more than they have disdain for Hillary versus people who hate Hillary more than they are repulsed by Trump. I think the former is the larger group, but it is not *overwhelmingly* larger. If everything goes right (or wrong, depending) it’s entirely possible he could win.

  2. Bob Zannelli

    Trump is a horror but Ted Cruz is Armageddon. [Ed. Note: Balance of comment deleted. This is not a post about which Republican candidate you hate the most, but about free speech. Any further comments about which candidate the commenter loves or hates will be summarily trashed.]

    1. Bob Zannelli

      You really think a presidential candidate who is a Christian re constructionist is not a relevant comment for a forum on constitutional law? You really should be more worried about Ted Cruz . You don’t seem to have a sensible criteria for what is worthy of discussion. That you won’t post my comment, or this one, is shame on you.

  3. RAFIV

    What pains and worries me is the absolute collapse of the middle ground and the appeals to ignorance by every candidate. Stunning displays of ignorance of law, fundamental state and federal constitutional rights, ecomonics etc. Hell we have a veritable cornicopia of half baked theories from those seeking power. With free speech being eroded at every turn, it would be nice if someone would display the decorum and employ the wisdom to stand up for liberty, dissent, reasoned debate and compromise.

    And not that I expect much synpathy, but as a libertarian/movement Conservative, this election has been eloquently and accurately described as the Kobayashi Maru.

    1. SHG Post author

      Emotion can’t be counteracted with reason. People have become empowered to feel instead of think. This is what comes of it.

  4. John Neff

    The epilogue is excellent. I think that the low caliber of the candidates is in part caused by the low caliber of their major financial supporters.

  5. Jay

    Read Marc’s CNN article huh?

    You do realize what a massive hypocrite you are right? You’re not arguing against violence from a standpoint of reason but of feeling- that it’s the “right” or “good” way to do things. Your absolutist position is curious to me for three reasons. First- Trump has told his supporters to beat people, many times, so at what point does he lose your protection? Second- You think the appropriate response to Trump is voting? Really? All the skepticism you show and you really believe in our voting system? Amazing. Third- Look even Martin Luther King Jr. knew you had to go where you weren’t wanted to protest against something. Saying people against Trump shouldn’t go to his rallies is… stupid. Really stupid. And it shows something else about you- that you’re kind of a coward. You’re a lawyer, you’re used to going into a special room to argue things. The idea of facing down evil in the street or going where it lives clearly scares you. That’s fine. It scares Marc, too, who spends his life ruining the lives of people who say things he doesn’t like but then turns around and says “violence is wrong!”

    Whatever man. You’re old and you have shown again and again that you’re basically incapable of self reflection. But when you have a guy like Trump, leading a movement that is openly fascist, you’d think you’d have more to offer than “stay away from him! don’t hurt anyone! don’t forget to vote!”


    1. Mort

      Saying people against Trump shouldn’t go to his rallies is… stupid. Really stupid.

      Are you saying you think trump SUPPORTERS should go to Sanders rallies? To Clinton rallies?

      Because that is what you’re saying.

      If you don’t like a thing, don’t go listen to that thing, that is entirely your right. What you don’t have a right to do is stop people from listening to things THEY want to listen to, even if you find what they are listening to to be vile and disgusting.

      That you don’t understand the difference is not entirely surprising; most people these days don’t seem to understand that you can support a right to say a thing without believing in that thing.

  6. Greg

    You said protesters don’t have the right to protest within the confines of a private affair but that they also should not be subject to physical violence for entering. What should happen if, having gained access to the event, they continue to disrupt it and refuse to leave? Is it permissible to use force to eject them, and if so, has the level of force used at Trump rallies to date been unreasonably in excess of what was needed?

    My own belief is that some level of force is definitely justified. And although there have been incidents of excessive force, they don’t strike me as egregious or even particularly frequent. The Daily Beast, which is virulently anti-Trump, published a round-up last week of the incidents to date, and my own reaction was, “Is that all there is?” I had been under the impression that Trump rallies had become bloodbaths, but what the DB came up with was just a handful of relatively minor incidents, plus of course, the famous sucker punch.

    This is the part of the comment where I feel obliged to affirm that I do think Trump is a despicable person, and I’ve thought so for 30 years or more.

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  9. John Barleycorn

    This is all the giddy up you got in you? Damn, who knew a prolouge could take so much out of you these days?

    Well, that explains why your flacid attempts to arouse an epilogue were something short of enlightenment.

    Better luck next time.

    I am sincerely bummed out none of your readers have posted up a photo or two of the fine print on the back of these Trump Cocktail Bash party tickets you speak of and I sure as heck would have thought someone with your skilz could have come through with a copy of at least a few venue lease agreements for educational purposes.

    Oh yeah, does anyone know what kind of entry stamps Donald is using at the door? I don’t want to get fooled by a photo shop of some door entry stamps on three generations of tits doing a group line hug with a scruffy looking lawyer in the background holding up a ‘free speech is sexy’ sign. I want to see the real deal before I break out my cocktail party tux and go through the trouble of lining up a good dry cleaner in Cleveland not to mention a decent hotel room with a view of the lake.

    In the meantime relax, esteemed one, just because you haven’t been to a party in a while doesn’t mean you get a pass for not being able to recognize that this party hasn’t really even gotten started yet. Pace your self man or you might just stroke out the next time you have to write a post that has a prolouge let alone an epilogue, let alone attend a party that really deserves either or both.

    Pro Tip: It is usually best to show up just after the first few waves of uptown strippers, downtown bartenders, and concierge staff from all over the city start arriving.

    P.S. I heard this guy threw a pretty good party.
    Speaking of which, I wonder if Dick and Donald ever had a chance to speculated about having a ménage à trois with one of Henry’s belly dancers? Naw, probably not seeing as how Henry liked to name his horses after belly dancers they were probably too chicken shit to even think about it.

    Giddy up little darlings, but pace yourself, parties are never any fun if you show up too early and the anarchists don’t let anybody in after the real fun begins not even the cops who bring drugs with them.

      1. John Barleycorn


        Nixon jokes are likely to be misunderstood and either get you killed or put on the black list by the time I show up to the parties I regularly attend.

        Please do tell.

  10. Bruce Coulson

    It’s unfortunate that there is no provision for voting ‘None of the Above’ for the current slate of Presidential candidates.

  11. Mark

    Too many people assume that the First Amendment protects them from paying a social or political cost for their actions.

  12. Turk

    You may need a new Epilogue, since a North Carolina sheriff said:

    “During their analysis of that speech, there were several instances where Trump made comments that incited the folks to continue the violent acts during that rally,”

    Or, perhaps, just re-label this as Part 1 of what will be, perhaps, a continuing saga.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s hardly outside the realm of possibility that Trump already has, or will, engage in incitement to violence, but I still want a better source than a North Carolina sheriff said do. And I wouldn’t bet against him making it through this campaign without doing so.

      Edit: Eugene has an interesting take on all this:

      So calling on people to push around ordinary hecklers would probably constitute soliciting or inciting a crime (since the heckling itself isn’t a crime, and thus attacking hecklers is a crime). But calling on people to push or even punch hecklers who are seriously disrupting the meeting, and effectively shouting down the speaker, may well be legal, since disrupting the meeting is a crime, using reasonable nondeadly force to stop the disruption is thus not a crime, and soliciting such use of reasonable nondeadly force is also not a crime.

      A very nuanced determination there.

  13. Michael Heaney

    “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.”

    Incorrect. First off, it’s not a private affair, it’s a public event. Tickets are sold, arbitrarily, to the public. Secondly, while disruption of the event, as in working to prevent the event from happening might be disallowed, there’s no basis for denying freedom of expression. If they sell someone a ticket, and that person walks in wearing a, “Say No To Trump,” t-shirt or some such, this is not disruptive. They have every right to this mode of expression. The alternative is to effectively say that more money = more freedom of expression.

    1. SHG Post author

      No, that doesn’t make it a public event. No, they have no right to go in there to protest. Saying they have “every right to this mode of expression” doesn’t make it so. It just makes you wrong. Again. They have no rights whatsoever to be there if Trump wants them out. They would, however, be entitled to reimbursement of the price of any ticket for which they paid.

      And here’s the irony: the protesters strengthen Trump. They protest because it makes them feel good about what they’re doing. It appeals to their vanity and narcissism. As a means of hurting Trump, it fails massively and makes his supporters hate the protesters more and adore him more. Brilliant.

    2. Myles

      Is it different when Trump says something stupid than when you do? Is there a reason you get to make up your ridiculous fantasy version of law, but he doesn’t? And none of this gets through to you, because he’s evil and you’re special.

  14. John Barleycorn

    And there you have it folks…

    A brain is a terrible thing to waste.

    I am pretty sure the esteemed one is wrong about being entitled to a ticket refund, but he can be forgiven seeing as he has never been bounced from a hockey game after throwing live goldfish on the ice before, a demoralizing tactic Donald’s critics could have easily deployed by now, to lasting effect, if they weren’t such delicate demagogues themselves.

    P.S. I knew “Make Love, Not War” was gonna come around in mysterious ways.

    So without any further ado or panty stuffing of free speach while trespassing way, way, way….way down here at the bottom of the thread, and at great personal sacrifice to my potential future  privileges here in the back pages of  SJ, I present to you, dear back page readers, a rather mysterious but entirely  predictable conundrum.

    Make love?


    Make War?

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