The rise of Donald Trump has exposed the frightening underbelly of America's foulest tendencies. Our racism, nativism, xenophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, ableism, and propensity toward authoritarianism have been laid bare. Reactions from those who stand opposed to these manifestations of oppression have varied from calm condemnation and routine peaceful protests, to blockades of roads and borderline riotous outbursts, including sporadic violence in various cities.
This isn't a coincidence.
There are so many examples of Trump inciting violence the New York Times put together this video documenting some of them. A powerful video juxtaposing his longing for the violence against protestors from the "good ol' days" with images from the Civil Rights Era recently went viral. There's been an upswing in anti-Muslim hate crimes that correlates with his candidacy--including several offenders who cite him as their inspiration. Another of his supporters beat an unhoused Latino man. Yet another sucker punched a demonstrator at a rally and then, more alarmingly, went on to say, "The next time we see him, we might have to kill him." Trump has not just flagrantly violated the typical boundaries of political discourse, his candidacy is linked to multiple instances of violence. It shouldn't be a surprise that opposition to him has responded in kind. Yet, a lot of people seem shocked and appalled at this perfectly logical reaction. In the face of media, politicians, and GOP primary voters normalizing Trump as a presidential candidate--whatever your personal beliefs regarding violent resistance--there's an inherent value in forestalling Trump's normalization. Violent resistance accomplishes this. In spite of this, such resistance is apparently more offensive and unacceptable to societal norms and liberal sensibilities than the nastiness being resisted in the first place.
As a result, a litany of think-pieces and condemnations from liberal media and politicians are making their rounds to make it clear how unacceptable and counterproductive any violence or rioting is, urging people to "listen to the other side," and to use "legitimate means" to fight Trump's rise--ignoring the possibility of fascism in the US rising with it. Those who stray from this nonviolent narrative, like Emmet Rensin, an editor at Vox who tweeted that people should riot when Trump comes to town, face swift and punitive redress, urging them to fall back in line. Amidst the hot takes and denunciations from liberals, they all seem to miss a few key points. First, they misplace the blame. Second, they misunderstand the desired outcome from violent resistance and those protesting Trump in general. And third, they ignore the history of successful violent insurrection in the US, instead favoring the elementary school version of history in which nonviolence is the only means of struggle that's ever achieved a thing.
Let's go point by point.
Point one. These denunciations of violence from anti-Trump protestors rest on the misguided view that the divide Trump's exposed is a typical political disagreement between partisans, and should be handled as such. This couldn't be further from the truth. Trump might not be a fascist in the 20th century European sense of the term--though many of his supporters are--but he might represent its 21st century US version. There's no doubt he's expanded the Overton Window to include rhetoric previously well outside its bounds. His calls for a "deportation force" to expel 11+ million people from the country, his claims that most Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals, his calls to keep databases of Muslims and to enact a total ban on Muslims entering the country, his rampant sexism, his mocking people with disabilities, and his propensity for lying have brought the already pathetic state of US political discourse to astoundingly precarious lows. Treating this like politics as usual allows it to become politics as usual, and those who do so risk complicity ushering in a new era of fascist politics in the United States. Violence that takes place at Trump rallies--in support or opposition--is a reaction to the tone he's set, and the blame for it should land primarily on his shoulders. As awful as Ted Cruz is, and he's genuinely terrible, like there's no way to overemphasize how terribly awful Ted Cruz is--politically, personally, as a colleague, a roommate, a presidential candidate... I mean he's really the worst. But if he was the presumptive GOP nominee things wouldn't look this way.
Point two. Politicians and liberal pundits seem to believe the principal goal for everyone resisting Trump is to halt his entry into the Oval Office. This, by default, means assisting Hillary Clinton's entry. That's a fine goal for some people to embrace, and in the heat of an election year perhaps partisans and pundits can be forgiven for having such a narrow view, but there's more to this fight than helping get another Clinton into the White House. And for some, posing that as the goal is a good way to motivate them to stay home. My biggest issue with looking at the Trump problem as an exclusively political issue, though, is that if he loses this fall everyone will go back to ignoring the things that got us here in the first place. No matter who wins in November, the forces underpinning his rise will remain.
Trump doesn't exist in a vacuum. He's the natural consequence of, among other things, Republicans longstanding embrace of racism, perpetual attacks on the credibility of media, scientists, and the federal government, defunding public education, railing against so-called PC culture, and using immigrants as scape goats. Defeating these systems of power and their underlying apparatuses--think tanks, conservative radio, Fox News, the Tea Party, etc.--is a much longer-term and more demanding task than assuring Trump isn't elected. Taking on the attitudes that drive them is even more difficult. Assuming anti-Trump protests should be strictly focused on electoral politics and not these broader goals would be a detrimental oversight. Understanding European anti-fascists use of violent tactics to shut down large rallies from White Supremacists can be illustrative here. Because while Trump isn't leading full bore White Supremacist rallies, there is value in making it clear that even his fascism-lite has no place in civilized society. And whether his candidacy represents how fascism comes to the US or he's simply opened the door to it is immaterial. Either should be stopped post haste.
Point three. Violent resistance matters. Riots can lead to major change (*note the irony of that hyperlink going to a Vox article). It's not liberal politicians or masses that historians identify as the spark underlying the modern movement for LGBTQ equality. Nor was it a think piece from some smarmy liberal writer. It was the people who took to the streets during the Stonewall Uprising. It was the Watts Rebellion, not the Watts Battle of Ideas, that exposed the enduring systemic neglect, poverty, inequality, and racism faced by that community. Similarly, it was the LA Uprising, not the LA Protests, that led to significant changes in the Los Angeles Police Department. More recently, the Ferguson and Baltimore Uprisings both helped prompt the Justice Department to investigate their corrupt police forces. And since we're talking about fascism, it's worth remembering that it wasn't the election of a moderate centrist (hello, Hillary) or a sanguine protest that stopped its ascent in Europe. It was, primarily, the Russian military, and to a lesser extent the US military; neither of which practiced nonviolence if memory serves.
Last, I want to briefly note the problematic nature of people with privilege condemning violent resistance to Trump as an absolute moral failing, or denying its logic. Whether you would personally engage in violent conduct matters little to your ability to understand where it comes from. Some people have the privilege to consider the implications of Trump's rise in the abstract and negotiate which means are necessary. That's not true for everyone. And when those who hold that privilege dismiss the potential validity or logic of violent resistance, it's effectively an effort to dictate the rules under which oppressed peoples respond to existential threats, and to silence forms of resistance disagreeable to privileged sensibilities. Don't be that liberal.
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