Saturday, June 4, 2016

On the Violent Protesters at Trump Rallies 2.0

This is a followup to my previous piece on this question.

On the violent protesters at Trump rallies

Yesterday there was a good deal of debate about this. Tom Brown among many others argued that Hillary should speak out against those Trump protesters who engage in violence. She has now done so, as has Bernie and most MSNBC hosts.

If anything Bernie seems better at criticizing this than the what his own supporters have done at Hillary's rallies and in Nevada, but that's another post.

On the question of 'political violence'-which is not just about literal, physical violence but the act of standing outside our rule of law, there are three different attitudes as I argued in my last piece.

So we have three different degrees of response to Trump.

1. Those who engage in political violence now.

2. Those who engage in democratic politics now but if they fail-Trump wins-would engage in political violence later. That includes the former director of the CIA and probably includes me.

When I say 'political violence' this doesn't only mean literal violence it means stepping outside the rule of law in some way. Just to be clear-I don't mean I plan to kill anyone. LOL.

Though in all seriousness, if you do step outside the rule of law, literal violence can ensue.

3. Those like Shadi Hamid who say even if Trump wins we have to continue to play by the rules even if Trump himself breaks them on a huge scale.

Van Newkirk of the Atlantic had argued that you can't simply criticize those in response 1.

"The way to restore peace is ​not just to condemn protesters,​ but to restore faith in the efficacy of democratic institutions—to show that violence and bigotry won’t be tolerated. If more of those who rushed to condemn the ​protesters​ in San Jose had been equally ​vocal​ earlier in the cycle, when violence first flared at Trump rallies, it ​might not have become so widespread.​​ Or perhaps, even earlier, when Trump began his campaign of rhetorical violence that spawned the physical violence of his rallies."

But I think that there's something missing from Newkirk's argument here and I think that Jamelle Bouie nails it.

"How Should America Resist a Fascist?"

"Violence won’t help—not while there are still legitimate means of stopping Donald Trump."

Indeed, violence could make things worse and might even help Trump. Those that glamorize political violence for the powerless don't usually provide us with any kind of empirical history that shows the times it's been used and how it's helped.

Newkirk may feel that democratic institutions have failed but I see no proof that political violence has ever worked.
Often it leads to repression or martial law. Protest movements have to have moral authority. If they try to appeal to only might they will lose every time.

As Bouie says there remain legitimate means of stopping Trump. What's more, I find it questionable that democratic institutions have failed.

Bouie frames the issue:

"After Donald Trump claimed the Republican presidential nomination, neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan wrote an essay for the Washington Post that made a simple but provocative claim: Trump, now a stone’s throw from the White House, was a vector for fascism. That, in running a campaign of threat and intimidation—against political adversaries, against foreign countries, against nonwhites and religious minorities—Trump had opened the door to the worst passions and darkest urges of American society."

“This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes,” wrote Kagan, “but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party—out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear—falling into line behind him.”

"Kagan didn’t address it but his piece raised an important question, perhaps theimportant question of this election: If Trump is a vector for fascism—if he is a fascist, full stop—then what do we do about it? The history of the 20th century is, among many other things, a testament to the danger of popular authoritarianism and how it can overwhelm the better angels of a nation’s character to pursue its resentments with murderous efficiency. That history is why, in the face of Trump, the targets of his rage have organized against him."

"So far, this movement against Trump is a democratic one that utilizes U.S. laws and institutions to mount a defense against a man who threatens them, from his attacks on the idea of an impartial judiciary to his tolerance for violence and support for a herrenvolk vision of American life. On the grass-roots level, Muslim and Latino activists are working to naturalize immigrants and register them for the ballot, while civil rights groups are fighting voter restrictions that may keep them from the polls. Students and other young people are protesting Trump events to demonstrate their stance against his rhetoric and aims. On an institutional level, the Democratic Party is planning a massive campaign against his candidacy, and the press is beginning to scrutinize his life and beliefs in serious ways."

"Trump may have overcome the Republican Party (or at least successfully exploited its core weakness) but the rest of America’s democratic system—our institutions of self-governance, from politics to civil society—has mobilized in response to Trump’s illiberalism."
"But is it enough?"

"Trump doesn’t just promise conservative policy—he isn’t a typical Republican presidential nominee whose views may offend liberals but don’t pose a threat to basic American institutions. His contempt for political norms, his attraction to violence, his bid to be Strongman of the United States of America all constitute a deadly threat to American democracy and an existential threat to Americans in Trump’s crosshairs. If we are living in an extraordinary moment, is it time for extraordinary action?"

"Which brings us to Thursday’s events in San Jose, California, where a group of anti-Trump protesters turned to violence against Trump supporters. Most of the anti-Trump action was peaceful, if aggressive. But some members crossed over into attacking attendees at the Trump rally. One supporter was pelted with eggs and water bottles, while others were punched and assaulted. Eventually, police moved in and stopped the scuffle, which left several people injured."

Ultimately Bouie argues that violent protesters are making a mistake in giving into the politics of mobocracy.

"But there’s a deeper problem. To attack someone because of their political beliefs is to embrace the logic of authoritarianism. To cite intentions and not actions as justification for violence is to embrace the logic of even worse beliefs and actors. We have to get them before we get us isn’t “direct action”; it’s mobocracy. And it runs counter to the liberal democratic ideal—the thing we’re defending in the first place."

The trouble with those who say democratic institutions have failed here is that they forget that the cornerstone of these institutions is the ballot box. Indeed, this is a big part of my frustration with such protesters. They are probably the last ones to actually vote against Trump-ie, vote for Hillary Clinton.

They seem to accept the logic of Bouie's mobocracy. Only political violence can achieve anything or is real.

"There are times when political violence is effective, even permissible. Now is not one of those times. Americans—and those on the left, in particular—have every tool needed to stop Trump. We can use those tools, which show every sign of working. Or we can choose the other option, the one that clears the path to genuine bloodshed. But here’s why we shouldn’t: The simple truth is that reaction feeds on disorder. And when there are legitimate means to stop Trump, you’re just as likely to cause a backlash in favor of his effort by forsaking them to attack his supporters. (At the risk of tripping Godwin’s law, German Communist violence against ultra-right targets in the 1932 elections didn’t stop Hitler and his enablers as much as it emboldened and enabled them.) If anything, Trump wants violent attacks on his supporters. Don't give them to him."

Which is to say that, yes, we can open the box labeled violence, but consider this: There’s little guarantee we’ll be able to close it and almost none that we’ll prevail in the end."

Godwin's Law. I've already opened that box. I agree most candidates are not Hitler and it's not 1932. But Trump 2016 is the exception to this.

I like that he mentions Communist violence, 1932. Remember that at the same time, the Communists were pretty dismissive of the Social Democrat opponents of Hitler just like many on the Left have been dismissive of Hillary Clinton.

Some have pretended there is no difference or that somehow Donald Trump is a dove, which is absurd when you listen to what he's said about nuclear weapons or using ground troops or pulling out of alliances.

I think what you often find on the Right and the Left is a mutual contempt for democratic institutions, and a belief in moborcracy.

If Trump does win and you didn't vote I don't want to hear your complaints in November. Because, effectively, you will have voted for him.

P.S. I think a big part of why Hamid warns against political violence even if Trump is elected is his own history as a man of Middle Eastern descent. He is very familiar with what it's like to live in a region where there is no respect for the rule of law and democratic norms.

I will say though that if you have an elected President who systematically disregards the Rule of Law I can't agree that you just accept that. There has to be a way to resist Hitler.

Or Hitler 2.0.

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