“Anger, Desperation, And The Desire For Drama”: Why There Will Be More Violence During This Campaign
The 2016 election may not quite be turning into a repeat of 1968, but the tension is certainly rising. Just as the violence around Donald Trump’s rallies seemed to abate, it has now returned, in a widening circle of chaos. And now people outraged by Trump are getting in on the action; last Thursday outside a Trump rally in San Jose, Trump supporters were hit with eggs and fists, leading to some blood being spilled and people being arrested. Prominent Democrats everywhere condemned the incident, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, not to mention all manner of liberal pundit-types. But there were also voices on social media praising the violence, essentially arguing that since the threat from Trump is so urgent, beating up some people who support him is justified.
That’s plainly ridiculous; if you object to Donald Trump’s thuggish ways, breaking out a little thuggery of your own has no moral justification. If you slug a Donald Trump supporter, all you’re doing is agreeing with him that people who disagree with you politically should be subjected to violent abuse as punishment for their thought crimes. As Jamelle Bouie writes, “it’s mobocracy. And it runs counter to the liberal democratic ideal—the thing we’re defending in the first place.”
It’s also just about the worst way you could come up with to move events in your desired direction, presuming that those few lefties throwing punches actually want to see Trump defeated. There’s going to be an election in five months, and if you don’t want Trump to become president, you should think about how to persuade the maximum number of people to vote against him, because that’s how he’ll be defeated. I’m pretty sure that beating up Trump supporters in front of the news cameras is not the way to do that.
But I’d guess that the ones spoiling for a fight aren’t thinking strategically. They’re mad, and they go down to the Trump rally to express their anger. And let’s be clear about something else: It’s pretty exciting, even if you don’t start a melee. Just being in a hostile environment, facing off with your comrades against people you’re sure are personally contemptible, and are certainly participants in a cause you despise, guarantees you an eventful evening.
We should never underestimate the role drama plays in motivating political involvement and political decisions. Political action isn’t just about bringing the kind of change you think is desirable, it can also offer social gratifications and a sense of purpose. Nevertheless, most of the things one does to participate in politics are pretty unexciting. There’s rarely anything electrifying about knocking on doors or making phone calls, no matter how meaningful the overall effort. But going to the other side’s rally to confront his supporters? That’ll get your blood pumping.
I suspect that the desire for drama is now leading at least a few Bernie Sanders supporters to consider a way to thrust their swords one last time at Hillary Clinton, no matter how doomed the effort. As Annie Karni of Politico recently detailed, some Sanders delegates are heading to the convention in Philadelphia with the intention of stirring things up, eager to stage protests and draw attention to their own ideas and concerns. To which one might say: Of course they are. Even if the overwhelming majority of Sanders voters will vote for Clinton and realize there’s not much purpose in trying to screw up the convention for her, there are those for whom a unified convention seems like the end of a noble crusade, with no gratification to offer them. There are some activists participating in this primary contest not because they want Democrats to win or even because they’re all that concerned about the outcome of the presidential race, but because it’s a vehicle for them to draw attention to their own issues, the issues they cared about before this election began and the ones they’ll care about after it’s over. “This is a battle and we’re not going to give in,” one told Karni. “We will not stop yelling about what we think the people need.” If that’s your plan, no concession on the party platform is going to satisfy you; the yelling is the whole reason you’re there.
That’s not really Bernie Sanders’ fault; right now he’s trying to both give his supporters hope that he can still beat Clinton and turn the focus on Trump, which is a tricky line to walk. But disruptions could happen at the Democratic convention whether Sanders sanctions them or not. When he issues his call for unity (and he will), there will be Sandernistas who conclude that Sanders himself is insufficiently committed to the Sanders cause. And they’ll want to keep fighting Clinton in Philadelphia, because fighting her and what she represents is what gives them energy and purpose; joining with her to fight Donald Trump doesn’t feel quite as revolutionary.
So both conventions may end up featuring loud protests, backroom dealings, and even some pushing and shoving, if not worse. The comparisons to the bloody Democratic convention of 1968 will be inevitable. In that campaign, there was a candidate who claimed to speak for the “silent majority.” He used the violence at the Democratic convention to weave a tale of a nation in chaos, with crime in the streets, hippies scorning traditional values and hierarchies, war overseas, and a general atmosphere of societal breakdown. He aired ads like this one, meant to tie it all together in one horrifying, seizure-inducing assault on all that was right and good. And, he said, Democrats were the enablers of chaos, too weak and indulgent to give those no-goodniks the smack upside the head they deserved.
This year isn’t quite the same; Donald Trump may claim to speak for a new silent majority, but it’s obvious to just about everyone that he’s the primary sower of chaos. That’s not to mention the fact that he doesn’t have a majority, and his supporters are anything but silent. And if he looks like he’s losing, more of his supporters, who already feel like the America of their youth has been stolen from them, may be tempted to take a swing at the people they perceive are sending them to another defeat. This isn’t the last time we’ll see bloodied noses at a campaign event, from one side or the other. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get any worse.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, June 6, 2016
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