Notes

First Drafts, Conversations, Stories in Progress

How Much Are Far-Left Activists Fueling Trump?
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Readers debate the question. To join in, email hello@theatlantic.com.

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What's the Best Way to Protest Trump? Cont'd

Our latest reader to email hello@, Robert Hochman, offers some great recommendations in response to that question—the best way to protest Trump—that don’t involve threatening free speech, which Robert defends here with passion and principle:

I’m a lawyer, but I don’t think the law of free speech is all that helpful in thinking through the delicate question of how one should either tactically or morally protest Trump. Whether he crosses the line to incitement, or merely dances on its edge, Trump is contemptible. What is legally permissible public speech is far broader than what our political culture ought to expect from candidates.

Whether Trump is aiding and abetting battery by offering to pay legal fees of his supporters who punch protestors is a nice exam question for law school. Whether he is “inciting” violence by lamenting the good ol’ days when protesters were taken out on a stretcher is something law professors and students love to argue about.

But nothing turns on the answer. And that’s because what we should cherish about our political culture is the miracle—and it really should be thought of as like a miracle—that the most powerful nation the world has ever seen removes its most powerful person from office every four or eight years through an orderly, nonviolent, democratic process. This so familiar to us that it is taken for granted.  Maybe we have become so accustomed to it that we can’t really believe that someone has come along who is threatening that norm. But if we do see it, and can recognize it, it is certainly our duty to figure out the most effective way to stop it. So the need to protest Trump is clear, whether his speech is lawful or not.

I think the comments of one of your readers, Alycee, is fundamentally off when she asserts that it is morally OK to prevent Trump from speaking even though it would not have been morally OK to prevent Obama from speaking in 2008.

A reader makes some key distinctions in our discussion so far:

Protesters are a heterogenous group. There are silent protesters who just stand there holding a cloth banner, there are protesters who chant slogans, and there are protesters who are easily baited by the Trump crowd. The silent protesters are not disruptive within the meeting hall, though they may block the view of the stage of a few people. The protesters who chant slogans are fine outside the building. It’s the protesters who get into shouting matches who play into the hands of Trump.

Trump needs to tell the crowd they are victims of the kinds of people that are protesting—younger people and black people, in the case of St. Louis. He likes to promote the “generation gap” by reviling the protesters as lazy kids—shades of the 1960s.

I would like to see some clergy in collars, elderly black people, and white older adults, particularly women, providing silent non-violent protest and leading by example. The uncommitted voter is not likely to look fondly on a candidacy that is fine with abusing grannies.

The Muslim woman in the above video who stood up in silent protest at a Trump rally isn’t exactly young, and she was still forcibly removed by security and jeered by the crowd, with no words of appeasement from Trump. If you know of any similar examples of peaceful protest, please send them my way.

In addressing the question, reader Alycee seems to draw a line between free speech and speech that incites violence—a line that’s difficult to determine sometimes:

At some point we have to face up to how our 1st Amendment protections of hate speech undermine the spirit and purposes of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause and, in so doing, undercut what we mean—or should mean—by a “free society.” Trump’s campaign brings this problem into sharp relief, and I shudder to think how he’ll translate, as POTUS, his hate speech into substantive policies.

Having said that: my take here is that Jonathan Chait’s analysis [excerpted earlier] is wildly off the mark. It is not so much the “morality of a tactic” that is at issue. What is at issue is the morality of the speaker against whom the tactic is employed as well as the morality of those who employ the tactic. Ultimately, the tactic is given meaning by those who use it.

Thus, in 2008 Barack Obama was calling for hope, not hate. In not one of his speeches speech did he denigrate a broad swath of the American public. He never characterized immigrants as rapists, murderers, thieves, and terrorists. [CB note: Nor did Obama denigrate the white working class—and even his Bittergate comment, distorted by his opponents, wasn’t said on the stump.] He did not yearn for the good old days when “we” would use thuggish, brute force to deal with dissenters. He did not promise to uproot a million people and ship them off to another land. He never embraced, however subtly, the support of an organization whose history includes such heinous acts as lynching ...

It’s a fraught question, but one that this reader tackles after reading Molly’s latest on “the resentment powering Trump”:

I’m one of the more anti-Trump commenters on this forum, but this is a topic where the Trump crowd does have a point. There is a double-standard regarding the bad behavior of the opposition, or at least a perception problem. The opposition should consider that they are actually giving Trump ammo to perpetuate his position.

However, the Trump crowd themselves negate the double-standard when they claim equivalency between, say, BLM and the KKK (as the one quoted gentleman did in the article).

A new poll from Monmouth University looked for empirical evidence of far-left activists driving support to Trump. Here’s Reason’s Robby Soave with the results: