Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, And the Power of Disruption

It was a good week for disruptive innovation. Three protestors affiliated with Black Lives Matter shut down Bernie Sanders yet again, this time at a Seattle rally Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump escalated his disruptive impact on the Republican presidential field, with a post-debate remark implying that Fox reporter Megyn Kelly was menstruating when she asked him provocative questions, fittingly, about his coarse put-downs of women.

The two forms of disruption invite comparison.

BLM is disrupting the most progressive candidate in the Democratic field. Why? Because in the year since the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the issue of systemic violence against blacks has still not broken through to become a first-tier issue, even among liberals.

Why Sanders? Because he is a soft target, with little if any security at his rallies and not inclined to call the cops on protestors. So he suffers disproportionately for the sins of the larger system. Is this fair? Not exactly. On the other hand it seems to be working.

Sanders has put out an excellent statement on criminal justice reform, which is far stronger than anything else out there from a mainstream candidate.

Even though these tactics are not pretty, we can expect the entire Democratic field to give more attention to issues of structural racism.

Black Lives Matter, rather like Occupy Wall Street and its spawn, is not a top-down movement. It is "horizontal," in the jargon du jour, a kind of loose confederation of like minded activists, rather like (pardon the analogy) the Tea Parties.

On the other hand, it is probably the most important grass movement to come along in decades, certainly on the left. And it sure doesn't have the Tea Parties wealthy donors helping to pull the string.

I think of the classic Malvina Reynolds protest song from the 1960s, "It Isn't Nice":

It isn't nice to block the doorway,
It isn't nice to go to jail,
There are nicer ways to do it,
But the nice ways always fail.
It isn't nice, it isn't nice,
You told us once, you told us twice,
But if that is Freedom's price,
We don't mind.

We have tried negotiations
And the three-man picket line,
Mr. Charlie didn't see us
And he might as well be blind.
Now our new ways aren't nice
When we deal with men of ice,
But if that is Freedom's price,
We don't mind.

Disruptive protest isn't nice -- that's the whole point. But sometimes it's necessary.

My guess is that Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter will get the choreography right before too long. There will be meetings. He will put out statements of support, maybe offer BLM time at rallies, maybe make some high profile speeches at grass roots civil rights gatherings.

Black Lives Matter will continue actions that occasionally disrupt campaign events of Sanders and others Democrats. But compared to the disruptive effect of Donald Trump on the Republican field, BLM is a picnic for Democrats.

This is a loutish billionaire with a titanic ego, and he reminds the broad public of what the Republicans really stand for. Unlike BLM, which is all about citizen energy, all the Donald has to do is write a check and he is in it for the long haul. That's the Republican way.

Trump is the Republican Party's worst nightmare. He speaks for the disaffected, rageful white males who think just the way he does; the people who listen to talk radio and don't let facts get in the way... the faithful viewers of Fox. But whoops,Trump and Fox are now in a dogfight. Over a Fox questioner, Megyn Kelly (gotta love that gyn) turned feminist. Does it get any better?

Sen. Lindsey Graham was quoted in the Washington Post:

"I think we've crossed that Rubicon where his behavior becomes about us, not just him," Graham said in an interview.

"Donald Trump is an out-of-control car driving through a crowd of Republicans, and somebody needs to get him out of the car," Graham said. "I just don't see a pathway forward for us in 2016 to win the White House if we don't decisively deal with this."

Yes, indeed. At first, political analysts thought Trump was a flash in the pan -- that when he questioned Sen. John McCain's military record, or preposterously claimed that was responsible for making immigration a national issue, or couldn't decide whether he was a supporter of single-payer insurance or letting-'em-die in the free market, or insulted women as menstrual harridans, he would be toast.

But it's now clear that no matter what Trump says, his support is likely to stay north of 20 percent in the polls because it isn't the words that matter; it's the anger. An NBC poll had Trump winning the Fox Republican debate with 23 percent support and the next highest contender (Ted Cruz!) second at 13, and Jeb Bush in sixth place with just 7 percent. Does it get any better?

These reverberations are almost too good to be true -- Fox in a fight with its own hard core audience and its own facts-don't-matter style; Fox suddenly becoming feminist; Trump reminding the country of what the larger Republican Party has come to represent; Trump sucking out all the oxygen so that rival candidates can't gain traction against a surprisingly weak Jeb Bush. And, very likely, Trump eventually running as an independent.

Trump is a caricature of things that more mannered Republicans have been getting away with for years. He smokes out what the Republicans really stand for. No wonder they are worried. "An out of control car driving through a crowd of Republicans."

Trump isn't nice. Neither is Black Lives Matter. The Democrats should be grateful for the form of creative disruption being visited upon them.

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