This is what Donald Trump and his supporters have wrought. Violence is reflected with violence, and both actions and reactions signal the crumbling of democratic institutions and an erosion of faith in them. My colleague Peter Beinart correctly predicted in March, after a rash of violent clashes, that the campaign season “will get more violent” as it continues. It will probably be worse in October than it is in June.
The central premise of a Trump presidency is violence, and the coercive threat of violence: building a wall and intimidating Mexico into paying for it, banning immigrants based on religion, expanding the country’s already-expansive deportation protocol, and punishing women for abortions. His rhetoric has been explicitly linked by prominent Republicans with tragedies such as the Charleston massacre. That the candidate himself regularly speaks threateningly about women and minorities and has prescribed violence at his own events are not facts ancillary to his candidacy, but core features of its appeal. A vote for Donald Trump is, among other things, a vote for a wide promulgation of violence.
For many anti-Trump protesters––who may be of Mexican descent––this man who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and threatens the ability of those immigrants to feed their families is not some faceless bigot, but an existential threat. Although he has recently backed away from some of the more controversial human-rights violations in his platform, Trump’s recent racist attacks against Judge Gonzalo Curiel illustrate that bigotry is his primary mode. A justified fear of Trump does not justify violence against an individual just trying to leave a rally. But any prescription for ending political violence must deal with the fact that Trump directs and wields violence, often through his supporters, in ways that upend peaceful means of political discourse.
Again, this contemplation of Trumpian violence does not absolve a person who throws eggs from the consequences of that act. But it does counter the idea, expressed by Conor, that political violence can be conquered if one side rises above the fray and refuses to engage. It counters the objectionable creep of respectability politics, that has led some to call on peaceful protesters to abandon Mexican flags so as to not provide ammunition for Trump’s nativist narrative. For decades, people have used a watered-down formulation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolence to uniquely burden the powerless with the task of maintaining peace against violent powerful actors. But even Kingian nonviolence was a strategy that itself acknowledged a certain utility in violence; a utility that it rejected, but a utility nonetheless. Moreover, Kingian nonviolence prescribed civil disobedience––mass lawbreaking––as a way to circumvent the uselessness of state-sponsored systems of discourse and to question their legitimacy. Would those who propose nonviolence also commit to supporting massive, disruptive acts of civil disobedience?