Commentary: Let Trump have his horrible say
If Nathaniel Lewis is not careful, he's going to get Donald Trump elected. Lewis was one of the organizers of the demonstration in Chicago that closed down a Trump campaign event. He is a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Illinois...
If Nathaniel Lewis is not careful, he’s going to get Donald Trump elected.
Lewis was one of the organizers of the demonstration in Chicago that closed down a Trump campaign event. He is a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an African-American, like many of the protesters. The idea was to shout something to disrupt Trump’s speech and then, linking arms, stand silently in a circle. The plan, however, went awry. Trump canceled the event and violence erupted, possibly changing the nature of the campaign and the year. It is now approaching 1968.
Lewis’ story is chronicled in Politico Magazine ( http://politi.co/1pgJQmE ). It is the story about mostly black and Hispanic students (as well as some others) facing a hostile crowd of Trump supporters, nearly all white and not intellectually inclined toward tolerance. It is also a story about the use of apps and social media to organize a demonstration - initially Facebook and then Google Docs and WhatsApp. Had they been around in 1968, there’s no telling what would have happened.
As it was, the demonstrations and riots that year helped elect Richard Nixon. He ran on a platform of “law and order” - a message with enormous resonance. Riots had engulfed major American cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King. Demonstrations against the Vietnam War seemed a daily occurrence. Robert F. Kennedy, running for president, was murdered in Los Angeles. On the nation’s campuses, students and some faculty were occupying the offices of deans and presidents, and some of these demonstrations, as with Columbia University, turned violent. The country seemed to be coming apart.
Nothing like that is happening yet. Race relations are better - no one’s arguing the virtues of segregation - and the draft no longer exists, conscripting young men in a war they often did not understand or vehemently opposed. Americans are fighting overseas today, but mostly from the air and in relatively small numbers. At its peak, more than 500,000 Americans were fighting in Vietnam, many of them draftees.
It is not my intention to belittle the current anti-establishment mood by comparing it to the larger and more tragic crisis of 1968. Donald Trump is the ugliest national candidate I’ve seen since George C. Wallace, the racist governor of Alabama who was shot when he ran for president in 1972. Like Wallace and Nixon, Trump will surely exploit the demonstrations against him. His constituency - already angry and feeling persecuted - is a hair trigger away from violence.
However much the anti-war demonstrations contributed to America’s withdrawal from Vietnam, in the interim they aided Nixon and thereby prolonged the very war they wanted immediately to end. Inevitably, the protests - although planned as peaceful - got out of hand. A determined few thought the war could be ended more quickly if a car was set on fire or a store window smashed. Then as now, violence made the nightly news. Americans recoiled. Like other peoples, they cherish stability - law and order. (Note how Trump always praises the cops. Note how emphatically he rejects the “Black Lives Matter” movement.)
I am on the side of the anti-Trump demonstrators. It matters that many of them in Chicago were Hispanic since Trump has both insulted that community and threatened it with mass expulsion. He has sown fear not only among Hispanics, but among Muslims as well. Never mind the questionable legality and unquestionable practicality of what he proposes. The message is clear: You are not wanted. He has been hateful. It is no wonder he is hated.
But while the protesters are entitled to make their case, so is Trump. If they have free speech, so does he. A silent protest is one thing; a mass attempt to shout him down - in other words, to silence him - is something else entirely. The response is often violence - an attempt to shut up the shut-uppers. To Trump’s constituency, there is something particularly galling about college students - seen as spoiled and the new establishment.
The Chicago students in the Politico article are the proud iteration of those who protested the Vietnam War, who burned their draft cards or otherwise exhibited brave, but peaceful dissent. Compared to the hideousness of an unnecessary war, Trump is a historical asterisk who will be gone, sullied and scorned in due course. (Let us pray.) In the meantime, the threat he poses will only be exacerbated by the danger of violence or violence-triggering protests. The man has little of value to say. Still, let him say it.
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