Why America better prepare for an onslaught of violence at Trump rallies
Violence is now an established feature of Donald Trump's politics. He regularly threatens, valorizes, and incites it. His rhetoric and argument are baldly racist, and his signature policy is an overtly racist border wall. Trump himself admitted the truth of this last week, when he argued that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is overseeing various lawsuits against Trump University, has a conflict of interest with Trump due to Curiel's Latino heritage and Trump's infamous wall. This obviously implies that the wall (and by extension Trump's mass deportation proposal) is aimed directly at Latinos.
Unsurprisingly, the targets of Trump's rhetoric have not all reacted with Nelson Mandela-esque grace and equanimity. This was starkly obvious at a Trump rally in San Jose last week, where there were several violent altercations between Trump supporters and protesters. Unlike previous instances, this time it appears that the anti-Trump faction started most of them, which ranged from childish abuse (throwing eggs and water balloons) to a serious sucker punch — though in at least one other instance, protesters protected a Trump supporter from an angry crowd.
America better prepare itself for this. The violence is only going to get worse.
I have previously defended nonviolent protests that disrupt Trump rallies, like when Bernie Sanders supporters and Black Lives Matters activists flooded into a rally in Chicago, singing songs and chanting slogans, which caused Trump to cancel the rally in fear.
By contrast, some of the things that happened in San Jose are much less justifiable. It's hard to see how cornering a single woman and pelting her with eggs advances the anti-Trump cause a single millimeter. Sucker-punching some guy who pushed aside your flag is cowardly and likely to get you prosecuted when every other person has their cell phone out — and for what? It all smacks much more of psychological self-gratification rather than any sort of coherent strategy.
But on a more fundamental level, nobody cares what me or any other pundit has to say on the matter. In any large enough group, there are always people who like to stir up the pot, get in confrontations, or fight with strangers — and these days, distrust of any sort of elite is absolutely rampant. Such people don't read Vox, they don't care what television personalities or celebrities say, and they certainly aren't looking for my approval. Trump is a magnet for every pissed-off racist, disgruntled activist, or person who simply glories in chaos — and there's every indication he's going to keep upping the racist ante as the election progresses.
So far the bulk of the anti-Trump protests have been basically peaceful and tactically sound. But it's inevitable that there will be a lot more of this sort of conflict. (Indeed, in some ways it will be a return to a previous political age, when political violence was extremely common.)
Probably the only people who have any real input on what happens next, aside from Trump himself, are the various city police departments. Though the police chiefs of the nation are probably not reading my articles either, it ought to be obvious that any Trump rally is going to require serious preparation — and that preventing fights is much easier than beating people into submission. De-escalation, acting as a physical barrier between protesters and crowds, and treating any injured are far wiser tactics than breaking out the tear gas and riot batons at the slightest provocation.
As for the country as a whole, violence between both sides is simply something we're going to have to endure. After the San Jose incident, just like during the Baltimore riots, there ensued an angry debate about whether political violence is ever justified, and if so, under what conditions. That aside, I suggest that a far more important question to keep in mind is what Trump would do with the sprawling state security apparatus Presidents Bush and Obama have constructed. Given his violent rhetoric, contempt for legal norms, and threats to intimidate journalists, the probable answer is troubling indeed.