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Monday, March 14, 2016

Trump v. Protesters

Every political candidate must deal with protesters. Some are sent by the opposition to throw them off their game.  Some are people seeking attention for a cause.  Some genuinely object to the candidate personally.  Whatever the reason, protesters are a fact of life for any campaign.  How a candidate responds to protests can tell us much about the candidate.

Donald Trump has had his share of protests.  His reaction, however, has been rather striking and disturbing.  Trump, in an apparent desire to show that he is strong had encouraged the immediate and forcible removal of any protesters.  If that was the end of it, there would probably be little controversy.  The candidate though has not only encouraged removal, but encouraged supporters to assault protesters.  At one rally, Trump said he would have liked to punch a protester in the face.  At another rally, he asked supporters to "knock the crap" out of protesters and promised to pay their legal fees.  On a different occasion, Trump had security remove protesters during a winter protest where it was well below freezing and encouraged the security team to confiscate the protesters' coats.

Trump supporters have gotten the message.  One supporter sucker punched a protester as the protester was peacefully being led out of the rally.  Amazingly, the protester was arrested but not the assailant. Later that day, the same man said that he might have to kill the protester next time.  The following day, he was arrested after a massive outcry.  There have been numerous other physical altercations that were not quite as blatant or well documented that have gone unpunished, as well as a great many threats.

Almost as disturbing as the use of violence is some of the racial bias, not only from supporters but the campaign itself. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not one for crying "racism" at any incident that may involve minorities.  In fact, I regularly call out my liberal friends to cry racism on issues that can be explained for many other reasons.  For example, when Trump initially refused to disavow KKK support for his campaign on the eve of many southern primaries, I would argue that Trump was not being racist, but only afraid of scaring off many of the racists who planned to vote for him in the next few days.  When Trump supporters repeatedly assault or use racial epithets against black protesters, one might argue the campaign could not control such things or that the focus was on the protest more so than race, though one might wonder why the campaign has not attempted to discourage such behavior.  However, when thirty black students are ejected from a Trump rally despite not expressing any message or disrupting anything in any way, one has to ask why.  The campaign denies it ordered their removal, but there is evidence that they did, and it is hard to imagine why officials would eject audience members otherwise.

Trump has not limited his wrath to protesters.  Trump has also threatened the media covering his events.  Trump seems to regard the media as hostile and seems to hold them in the same contempt as protesters.  While Trump has not explicitly advocated violence against reporters in his public statements.  He has expressed disdain and disgust for them, encouraging jeers and angry statements from his supporters aimed at the press.  There have also been several attacks on reporters, one by a Secret Service Agent working for Trump, who choked and knocked a reporter to the ground after the reporter apparently refused to comply immediately with an order to move away from the edge of the area to which reporters are restricted at rallies.  On another occasion, a reporter was allegedly assaulted by a member of the Trump campaign while trying to ask the candidate a question.  Trump has refused to apologize or take any responsibility for either event.

Trump's disdain for the press goes beyond violent events.  He has threatened to sue reporters who have published undisputed facts and has called for changes to libel laws to allow for easier lawsuits against reporters, an act that would seem to go against decades of Supreme Court cases which jealously guard the right of a free press to publish allegations about those in power.  Trump's refusal to allow reporters to leave designated zones at rallies and other events, which prevent reporters from speaking with supporters or taking many good pictures is also disturbing.

The result of the tone set by the campaign has been increased violence as angry protesters and supporters come into conflict, as happened at the Chicago rally that was cancelled due to violence.

In the rough and tumble world of business, it is often acceptable to cut corners, intimidate opposition, use whatever means necessary to achieve one's goal.  Even a little low level violence may go unnoticed.  But such behavior in a President, ignoring laws or basic Constitutional rights, becomes deeply disturbing.  Mr. Trump does not seem to make this distinction, nor do his supporters.

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