All that would be true regardless of the horse-race implications of Thursday’s violence. It is nevertheless worth noting the likely effects of the violence. The San Jose anti-Trump protesters, like the violent anti-Trump protesters in Costa Mesa before them, more likely helped than hurt the odds of Trump being elected president.
Phone videos of Mexican flags waving as Trump supporters are attacked will fuel nativist anxieties about immigration as well as hate-group fundraising.
White supremacists were undoubtedly smiling as they read the news.
In a week with headlines about Trump University’s shockingly unethical behavior, old footage of Trump telling a TV interviewer that he got furious at his former wife when she didn’t have dinner on the table when he got home, and the revelation that Trump failed to make good on a pledge to a veteran’s charity until the press called him on it, San Jose’s protesters managed to do the one thing that would give Trump supporters, if not the candidate himself, moral high ground in anything.
Here’s how I put it a month ago in a piece titled, “Hard Truths About How to Beat Donald Trump”:
At anti-Trump protests, eschew violence and any other behavior that helps his cause.
The activist left is very antagonistic to “respectability politics,” which Wikipedia defines as “attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as compatible with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference.”
Since nonviolence is a value held dear by large majorities on the activist left, not a mainstream value it rejects, efforts to keep anti-Trump protests as peaceful as possible are not at all inconsistent with rejecting respectability politics.
They’re a no-brainer.
Results-oriented activists should go a step farther. If organizers at anti-Trump rallies did their utmost to keep Mexican flags out of the hands of activists and to have as many American flags waving as possible that may or may not constitute respectability politics. Labels aside, that tactic would significantly increase the chance that a given rally will help the anti-Trump cause and significantly decrease the chance that a given rally will harm the anti-Trump cause. All who regard preventing the empowerment of a demagogue who pits his supporters against Mexicans and Muslims as a hugely important goal should prioritize its achievement.
All that said, any reader of mine who is tempted to react to violence by a tiny subset of Trump opponents by supporting the candidate himself should understand that not only have Trump supporters engaged in violence on multiple occasions—two beat and urinated on a homeless man while saying “Trump was right”—the candidate himself has, on other occasions, explicitly encouraged violence, unlike Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or any other credible candidate for the presidency in my lifetime. “Maybe he should have been roughed up,” Trump said of one verbal dissenter who was beaten at one of his rallies. On another occasion, he declared that he missed the old days when people saying nasty things at political rallies would “be carried out on a stretcher.”