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“Must Be Defeated Through Democratic Means”: Donald Trump Poses An Unprecedented Threat To American Democracy

Last month, I made the case that a Donald Trump nomination would be better for America than the nomination of one of his Republican rivals. I no longer believe that. I began to change my mind when a report circulated highlighting his 1990 interview with Playboy in which he praised the brutality of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. This is not the first time I had seen Trump praise dictators. (He has effused over Vladimir Putin.) But Trump’s admiration for Putin seemed to spring from a more ordinary Republican partisan contempt for President Obama, and closely echoed pro-Putin comments made by fellow Republicans like Rudy Giuliani. Trump’s quarter-century-old endorsement of Chinese Communist Party repression went well beyond the familiar derangement of the modern GOP. This was not hatred of Obama, or some obnoxious drive to stick it to his supporters; it was evidence of an authentic and longstanding ideology. Trump has changed his mind about many things, but a through-line can be drawn from the comments Trump made and 1990 and the message of his campaign now: “When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak.”

My previous view of Trump was as a kind of vaccine. The Republican Party relies on the covert mobilization of racial resentment and nationalism. Trump, as I saw it, was bringing into the open that which had been intentionally submerged. It seemed like a containable dose of disease, too small to take over its host, but large enough to set off a counter-reaction of healthy blood cells. But the outbreak of violence this weekend suggests the disease may be spreading far wider than I believed, and infecting healthy elements of the body politic.

I remain convinced that Trump cannot win the presidency. But what I failed to account for was the possibility that his authoritarian style could degrade American politics even in defeat. There is a whiff in the air of the notion that the election will be settled in the streets — a poisonous idea that is unsafe in even the smallest doses.

Here is another factor I failed to predict. Trump, as I’ve noted, lies substantively within the modern Republican racial political tradition that seamlessly incorporates such things as the Willie Horton ads and the uncontroversial service of Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who once called himself “David Duke without the baggage,” as House Majority Whip. But Trump’s amplification of white racial resentment matters. His campaign has dominated the national discourse. Millions of Americans who have never heard of Steve Scalise are seized with mortal terror of Trump, whose ubiquity in campaign coverage makes him seem larger and more unstoppable than he is. And terror is corrosive.

Marco Rubio, channeling the conservative movement’s response to Trump, has tried to connect him to President Obama, a figure who is Trump’s antithesis in every respect. Rubio has compared Trump’s rhetoric to “third-world strongmen,” an analogy he has in the past used to describe Obama (“It was rhetoric, I thought, that was more appropriate for some left-wing strong man than for the president of the United States.”) Rubio has fixated on the notion that Obama’s appeals to racial tolerance amount to an assault on white America, even condemning the president for speaking at a mosque. Speaking on Fox News Friday night, Rubio connected Obama’s style to the political correctness found on many college campuses and other left-wing outposts:

President Obama has spent the last eight years dividing Americans along haves and have-nots, along ethnic lines, racial lines, gender lines in order to win elections. I think this has gone to the next level here and you know, we’re seeing the consequences of it and that, in combination with the fact that, you know, I think there’s a need to remind people that the first amendment allows people to disagree with issues and say things you don’t agree with, which obviously is just being lost here. And then this sort of sense now on the left that if you don’t like what someone is saying, you have the right to just shut them down as you see happen on many college campuses across America and you saw tonight there in Chicago.

This is mostly laughable. Obama has condemned political correctness on several occasions, urging liberals not to try to prevent political opponents (even the most offensive ones) from making their case, but to win arguments with them instead.

But Rubio is not wrong to draw a connection between p.c. and elements of the left’s response to Trump. Donald Trump may or may not have been forthright about citing safety fears in cancelling his speech Friday night in Chicago, and disrupting the speech may or may not have been the protesters’ goal. But it is clear that protesters views the cancellation of the speech as a victory, breaking out in cheers of “We stopped Trump!”

Preventing speakers one finds offensive from delivering public remarks is commonplace on campuses. Indeed, more than 300 faculty members at the University of Illinois-Chicago signed a letter asking the University administration not to allow Trump to speak. I polled my Twitter followers whether they consider disrupting Trump’s speeches an acceptable response to his racism. Two-thirds replied that it is. Obviously, this is not a scientific poll, but it indicates a far broader acceptance than I expected.

Because Trump is so grotesque, and because he has violated liberal norms himself so repeatedly, the full horror of the goal of stopping Trump from campaigning (as opposed to merely counter-demonstrating against him) has not come across. But the whole premise of democracy is that rules need to be applied in every case without regard to the merit of the underlying cause to which it is attached. If you defend the morality of a tactic against Trump, then you should be prepared to defend its morality against any candidate. Now imagine that right-wing protesters had set out to disrupt Barack Obama’s speeches in 2008. If you’re not okay with that scenario, you should not be okay with protesters doing it to Trump.

Of course it is Trump who has let loose the wave of fear rippling out from the campaign. And it is Trump who has singled out African-Americans peacefully attending his speeches for mistreatment, and Trump who has glorified sucker-punching attacks on non-violent protesters. This is part of the effectiveness of authoritarian politics. The perception that Trump poses a threat to democracy legitimizes undemocratic responses — if you believe you are faced with the rise of an American Mussolini, why let liberal norms hold you back? The anti-Trumpian glory falls not upon the normal, boring practitioners of liberal politics — Hillary Clinton with her earnest speeches about universal pre-K and stronger financial regulation — but the street fighters who will muster against Trump the kind of response he appears to require. Just the other day, a man charged Trump as he spoke, and came disturbingly close to reaching him. More of this seems likely to follow, and it can spread from Trump’s rallies to those of other candidates.

A huge majority of the public finds Trump repellent. Some of his current unpopularity is the soft opposition of Republican voters who are currently listening to anti-Trump messaging from party sources and would return to the fold if he wins the nomination. But there is simply no evidence that the country that elected Barack Obama twice, and which is growing steadily more diverse, stands any likelihood of electing Trump. He can and must be defeated through democratic means. He is spreading poisons throughout the system that could linger beyond his defeat. Anybody who cares about the health of American democracy should hope for its end as swiftly as possible.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, March 13, 2016

March 16, 2016 Posted by | Democracy, Donald Trump, GOP Primaries, Racism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“U.S. Citizens Have A Right To Protest, Even In Ferguson”: Rights Not Respected In The Moment Are Not Rights At All

Last week, a federal judge told us what we already knew.

Namely, that police in Ferguson, Missouri, violated the rights of protesters demonstrating against the shooting death of Michael Brown. U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry struck down an ad hoc rule under which cops had said people could not stand still while peacefully protesting. Some were told they couldn’t stop walking for more than five seconds; others that they had to walk faster.

Again: These were not rioters. These were citizens seeking “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” as the First Amendment gives them the right to do. So Perry’s ruling is welcome, but not particularly surprising. The no-stop dictate was so flagrantly wrong as to make any other decision unthinkable.

Still, one’s sense of righteous vindication is tempered by the fact that police felt free to try this absurd stratagem in the first place — and by the fact that this was hardly the only recent example of police using the Constitution for Kleenex.

Ferguson, let us not forget, is also the town where reporters were tear gassed and jailed and photographers ordered to stop taking pictures, which seems a pretty straightforward abridgment of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of the press. Meanwhile, a new ACLU report makes Boston Police the latest — but hardly the only — department empirically shown to engage in racially biased policing, which would violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of “equal protection of the laws.” And a recent Washington Post series illustrated how civil asset forfeiture laws allow police to search your vehicle, seize any cash they find and keep it, without even charging you with a crime, until or unless you prove to their satisfaction that you came by the money legally. Goodbye, Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Farewell, Fourteenth Amendment stricture against seizure of property “without due process of law.”

It seems our constitutional rights are being nibbled out from under us, compromise by compromise, expediency by expediency, while we watch with dull complacence. In our unthinking mania for laws to “get tough on crime,” we actually made it tougher on ourselves, altering the balance of power between people and police to the point where a cop can now take your legally earned money off your sovereign person and there’s little you can do about it.

“I know my rights,” an aggrieved citizen would yell once upon a time. Turns out that doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore.

Indeed, at the height of the Ferguson protests, an L.A. cop named Sunil Dutta published in the Washington Post an op-ed advising that, “if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.” Don’t argue, he said, even if you “believe (or know)” your rights are being violated. Deal with it later.

Certainly, he’s correct that there’s nothing to be gained by making an a– of yourself or making an angry cop angrier. Nothing will be settled on a street corner.

Yet, there is something unsettling about the idea that you are only allowed to assert your rights at a later date in a different forum. The bullying behavior and contempt for the Constitution that characterized police in Ferguson ought to leave us less than sanguine with that notion, ought to encourage us to resist — at the ballot box, in the council meeting and, yes, by lawful protest — this drift toward unlimited police authority.

It’s all well and good that now, several weeks after the fact, a court affirms the rights Ferguson police denied. But that’s a poor consolation prize. An argument can be made that rights which aren’t respected in the moment they are asserted are not really rights at all.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, October 12, 2014

 

October 14, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Constitution, Ferguson Missouri | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dissent And Violence”: Where Terrorists And Assassins Don’t Hide

At the end of last week, I wrote about a report showing how law enforcement authorities reacted to Occupy protests as if they were the advance guard for an al Qaeda invasion of America, on the apparent assumption that unlike non-violent right-wing dissent, non-violent left-wing dissent is likely a prelude to violence and thus must be met with surveillance, infiltration, and ultimately force. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a decision on a case involving the Secret Service that seems to grow from a similar assumption about the connection between dissent and violence.

The case was about an incident in 2004 when President George W. Bush stopped at an outdoor restaurant in Oregon. A crowd quickly formed, with some people cheering Bush and some jeering him. The Secret Service forced both groups away from the location, but let the pro-Bush citizens stay closer than the anti-Bush citizens; the plaintiffs charged that this was impermissible viewpoint discrimination. The Court ruled 9-0 that the Secret Service acted reasonably to protect the president. Having read the decision, I don’t necessarily disagree with their reasoning—a lot of it turned on things like lines of sight to where the president was sitting from different corners in the area. But I’d be shocked if the agents involved weren’t particularly on their guard when the anti-Bush protesters showed up.

What we ought to question is the assumption that there’s any connection at all between the content of a non-violent protest and the potential for premeditated violence, particularly of the really dangerous kind, like terrorist attacks and attempts to assassinate the president. If you have two groups of people yelling at the president, and one group is saying “You’re great!” while the other group says “You suck!”, is there any higher probability that a threat to the president’s life will come from the second group than the first? The answer is, of course not. If someone wanted to assassinate the president, they would have no reason to seek out a bunch of protesters opposing that president to use as a cover. They’d want to get close enough to fire a shot, and it wouldn’t matter what the people among whom they hid would be saying.

That’s true despite whatever intuitive sense one might have that people who are opposed to the president might want to assassinate him. There’s a belief not just that anti-government violence exists on the same spectrum as peaceful protest, but that at any given moment, such violence is a potential outgrowth of such protest. And more: that people planning violence will incorporate peaceful protest into their plans.

That assumption leads to things like the Department of Defense spying on Quaker anti-war protesters during the Iraq war. Think about how nuts that is. The anti-terrorism officials whom we charge with our safety actually seemed to believe that al Qaeda would send a cell to America with plans to launch a major attack, and instruct them: “The week before zero hour, make sure you go to an anti-war rally. Make a sign that says ‘Bush Is the Real Terrorist.’ That will lay the groundwork for the explosion.”

Again, this case about the Secret Service was probably rightly decided, but the belief that terrorism, bombings, assassinations, and/or general violent mayhem are the potential result of every left-wing protest is absolutely common among law enforcement authorities at every level of government. It isn’t just factually wrong, it’s actually dangerous—to the people who end up having their rights violated, and to the country’s safety.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 29, 2014

June 1, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Public Safety | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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