Saturday, 9 April 2016

Trump, Violence and the Right to Free Speech

Given Trump’s enthusiastic support for violence against protesters at his rallies, it’s not surprising that he’s been hit with a lawsuit. Three people have filed a complaint against the candidate claiming they were racially abused and threatened with violence at a rally in Kentucky.

Trump’s encouragement of violence has been well documented. He’s defended the violent actions of his supporters in the past by saying they were overcome by their love for America. From New Republic:

They don’t like seeing bad trade deals, they don’t like seeing higher taxes, they don’t like seeing a loss of their jobs where our jobs have just been devastated. And I know — I mean, I see it. There is some anger. There’s also great love for the country. It’s a beautiful thing in many respects.”

Notwithstanding the belief that liberals love big taxes, this statement could equally be applied to those who are protesting against Trump. Protesters clearly love their country enough to get out there and take a stand against what they see as a very dangerous turn in politics.

To Trump and his supporters the protesters are “professional troublemakers” and “puppets of the institutional left.” Andrew Marcus, a filmmaker who recorded a protest in Chicago, put it in a nutshell. From

This was a premeditated act of harassment and intimidation to shut down the Trump event but wrapped in a message of stopping the hate.

Trump supporters on the other hand, are seen by opponents as racist red-necks who are more than a little crazy. This impression was reinforced by John McGraw, the 78 year-old white man dressed in cowboy gear, who sucker-punched a protester as he was led away by police. From Inside Edition:

Number one, we don’t know if he’s ISIS…We don’t know who he is, but we know he’s not acting like an American,” he added. “The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.

His victim was RakeemJones, an African-American man who attended the rally as a "social experiment" with a "diverse group" consisting of a gay man, a white woman and a Muslim.

While this conflict seems to symbolize in a potent way the great divide that has opened up in American politics, what is actually does is obscure the middle ground made up of those who are attracted not so much by Trump’s race-baiting but by his promise to bring back jobs and restore manufacturing. These are the people who have been hit hardest by deindustrialization and the loss of job security. Student Kyle Netzle made this clear at a rally in Wisconsin. From Alternet:

What I think is the biggest thing for me is that if he is able to bring back big corporations like manufacturing back to America that would be great. I'm in school for welding so that would be big.

It’s true these supporters are vulnerable to slogans and easy answers, but they also see a vote for Trump as a way of sticking it to the Establishment, which in their eyes includes the proponents of identity politics who they have been taught to see as their enemies.

It’s easy to write these people off as deluded and uneducated, but they have much more in common with anti-Trump protesters than they realize. All of them are angry and worried about the state of American society. All of them are yearning for change. Considering how ugly and divisive the political contest has become, is there a better way of reaching these people?

Fox’s Megyn Kelly may actually have made a good point when she commented on a recent protest in Chicago. From MediaMatters:

Is this the way to shut down the ability of Chicagoans and those who have traveled in some cases for miles and miles and waited for hours and hours to get in, to have their say and hear him for themselves? For all these people know, they weren't Trump supporters. Maybe that gentleman would have walked away saying "You know what? He's not for me." We'll never know now, because they shut down their right to listen.

Do protests at Trump rallies make a real difference or do they create more hostility among the very people the protesters should be trying to reach? It seems Trump’s popularity might finally be waning but the discontent which attracted people to him is still very real and could easily be exploited by another politician. There’s a desperate need for genuine communication in America today. Maybe it’s time to stop judging and start listening.

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