Monday, March 28, 2016

Belated Comments on the Shut-Down Rally in Chicago

I am a little late to the game to comment on the Trump rally that was shut down in Chicago when supporters and protesters clashed.  But still I did have a strong initial reaction and have a few comments.

First off, calm down and don't have a cow.  We saw something like this before with the controversy over Obamacare.  Any time there demonstrators and counter-demonstrators, there is danger of a clash.  The police are much better than they used to be at keeping them apart without taking sides, but they are not perfect.  Occasional clashes will happen.  A few clashes happened over Obamacare. Both sides magnified them into systematic Brown Shirt campaigns of terror.  But there was no systematic terror, just a few spot outbreaks.  And yes, there have been some unfortunate events at Trump rallies.  And Trump appears to encourage them.  But these are no more than spot events.  They are certainly  nothing like the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention.  So, yes, Trumps excuses for violent acts by supporters should be condemned.  But the scale should not be exaggerated, any more than we should exaggerate the threat of ISIS.

Second, and I speak here with one with a deep visceral loathing of Trump, my immediate reaction was still to fault mostly the protesters.  I wholly agree with this column:
If you want to go to a Trump rally as a Trump hater, you are free to do so. If you want to stand up and unfurl a Bernie Sanders banner at a Trump rally, you are free to do so. You are not free to yell, to interrupt the proceedings, or to incite or create violence. If you are escorted out, you must do so peacefully. Outside the rally, you have to obey the laws, too.
Exactly so.  Trump and his supporters have the complete right to hold rallies.  His opponents have the complete right to protest.  They do not have the right to shout him down, or disrupt his rallies.  And shutting down a candidate altogether because you don't like his views completely violates the most basic rules of democratic fair play.  Many of the protesters were apparently Bernie Sanders supporters, although there is no evidence whatever that the Sanders campaign had anything to do with it.  Perhaps many were young, over-exuberant, and unfamiliar with those rules.  In that case, Sanders has an obligation to give his more rowdy supporters a good talking-to.  He needs to explain the proper limits of protest and why shutting down a rival's rallies is a serious threat to our entire democratic system.  I would call on the more responsible leaders of immigration activists and Black Lives Matter to do the same, but they are further from the mainstream than Sanders and more difficult to control.  What about it Bernie?

And finally, Trump followed up with a tweet that his followers might start shutting down Sanders rallies.  Fortunately, this has been strictly empty talk so far.  Trump, perhaps sensing that he went too far, has not followed up on it.  Because thus far, violence by Trump supporters has been aimed at intruders interfering with his rallies.  It does not meet any legal standards of self-defense, but it remains politically defensive, resistance to party-crashers.  If Trump ever does encourage his supporters to start breaking up and shutting down rival candidates' rallies, then we will be dealing with an altogether different, and more serious phenomenon.  And in that case, talk of fascism will not be so crazy.

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