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Trump And Political Violence

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Rick Perlstein makes a very important point about the question of Trump and riots:

That’s the score: four elections, two where violence drove the electorate toward the Republicans, and two where violence drove the electorate toward the Democrats. And here is the heart of the pattern. Listen to what Richard Nixon said in that 1968 acceptance speech, after he invited Americans to listen to the sirens in the night, the angry voices, Americans hating each other, fighting each other, killing each other. Later in the speech, he invited them to listen to “another voice. It is the quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting.” That was the voice he promised to embody. He promised calm.

What made his promise credible were the images, three weeks later, at the Democratic convention: the worst violence at any convention in U.S. history. And the way that same chaos seemed to follow the Democratic nominee wherever he went—like the incident on October 31 when a rally for nominee Hubert Humphrey was interrupted by a naked woman who dashed down the aisle carrying the head of a pig on a charger. After she was apprehended, her male companion, also naked, seized the pig’s head, leapt to the stage, and presented it to the speaker, economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

Chaos seemed to follow the Democrats wherever they went. So Nixon, promising quiet, prevailed.

Then, two years later, when chaos seemed to follow the Republicans wherever they went—it was a Democrat, Edmund Muskie, who offered the credible appeal, quoted above, for quiet.

History, really, is not so neat as all this. Still and all, the evidence is suggestive. It’s not that the chaos of political rallies that devolve into mêlées invariably favors the authoritarian party of law and order. Instead, it is the party to whom chaos appears to attach itself that the public tends to reject—especially if the leaders of the opposing party do an effective job of framing themselves as the quiet, calm, and centering alternative.

That is the lesson for Hillary Clinton. What is the lesson for us? It’s most decidedly not to encourage chaos at Donald Trump rallies. This very act of encouragement, after all, clouds the story: it would make it credible to frame the Democrats as authors of chaos.

Trump is a fascist. Trumpism leads to riots. Already, the backlash in ensuing: in the first round of polling since both parties provisionally settled on their candidates, 70 percent of Americans said they viewed Trump unfavorably, 56 percent “strongly” unfavorably. Among independents he lags 38 points behind Hillary Clinton in favorability, 20 points behind among whites; and even among Republicans his favorability rating has plunged from 42 percent in April to 34 percent now. Asked to choose between the three candidates on the ballot, Clinton, Trump, and Libertarian Gary Johnson, polling has Trump 12 points behind. He is the pig on the platter. Let him stew in his own blood. The public recognizes the chaos of which he is author, and they are turning away in disgust.

We needn’t address abstract questions of when political violence might be justified to deal with whether to encourage violence against persons or property at Trump rallies, which is a relatively easy question. It’s a terrible idea. This is not a desperate situation for the left. Facing an already uphill fight in the Electoral College because of the choice they’ve made to use the advantages the less democratic aspects of the American system grant them to maximize ideological purity rather than expanding their coalition, Republicans have selected a candidate who figures to be an anchor on their prospects comparable to McGovern or Goldwater. It would take extraordinary circumstances for Trump to win. Encouraging people to riot (as opposed to peacefully protesting) at Trump rallies is exactly the kind of thing the Trump needs and that anti-Trump forces do not. Let the already massively unpopular Trump own the chaos and then beat him badly at the ballot box.

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