Those who violently protest Donald Trump are merely strengthening his message, and weakening what they protect: democracy.
This is not an article debating the merits of the Trump protests that are taking shape and blossoming across America. It is not an article in defense of Trump either. I merely want to unpack the protest tactics being used and denounce them as the height of hypocrisy, as counterproductive, and, above all, as something that should engender serious resentment in anyone who values the principles of democracy.
On Friday, March 11, 2016, up to 3,000 protesters converged on the Trump rally that was due to be held at the University of Illinois in Chicago. 2,500 protesters gathered around the venue with signs, chanting, and voicing their disapproval at everything the Don stands for. No one should have been surprised. Only two weeks earlier, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro had a talk, to which he was invited, shut down by the activist student body at California State University. It’s becoming quite clear that universities in America are not public spaces and that fee-paying students feel well within their rights to prevent other fee-paying students from listening to opposing views. This climate of university censorship was foremost in the mind of Corey Lewandowski (Trump’s campaign manager) when he booked the auditorium at the most liberal campus in Illinois, in the most liberal city in America. 55 percent of enrollment is non-white. The Trump campaign knew exactly what it was doing. It wanted to show America what the first amendment means to liberal activists in the twenty-first century. That’s exactly what happened. While most protesters stayed outside the venue, 500 made their way in and shut the rally down. It was all a trap set by Trump.
On Saturday, March 19, 2016, protesters in Arizona parked their cars across a busy highway en route to a Trump rally, blocking traffic for miles. Hundreds of motorists who had nothing to do with the rally were inconvenienced while dozens of Trump supporters walked the four miles from the roadblock to the venue.
You might think this is awesome. “Woo-hoo, protesters! You showed that chump, Trump!”
I’m sorry; I disagree. I think this is a total disaster.
Firstly, the protesters don’t understand what these tactics are actually doing. You can tell they have no idea because Trump invites, encourages, and relishes these kinds of actions. Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio was told not to send the police to the highway too quickly. Let it built up a bit … let it get bad. If the protesters understood that the person they are acting against benefits from and enjoys what they do, maybe they’d think twice.
Secondly, the protesters don’t realize they are destroying the very thing they are fighting for: democracy.
Trump protesters believe they are highlighting the fascism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, and racism of Donald Trump. They think they can contain the spread of his vile message by preventing people from seeing him. They believe that when Americans see the violence, riots, and chaos for which Trump is the catalyst, people will stop supporting him. I admit, I thought that at first too. I was wrong; they are wrong, and if you still think this—you’re wrong too.
Illinois had an election four days after the protests in Chicago and I thought, There’s no way people will vote for the guy that caused so much mayhem in their city. Wrong! Trump beat all the polls with his margin of victory in Illinois.
Illinois sanctioned, approved, and rewarded Trump for his confrontation with the protesters. The voters conducted a mini-referendum and voted down the protesters’ proposition. Not because of what they were saying—but because of how they said it.
This is the crux of it: you can’t fight for democracy by destroying the fundamental principle upon which democracy is built. You don’t defend liberalism by attacking free speech. You don’t silence a demagogue by burning down the stage. You don’t protect society from fascism using Gestapo tactics.
What liberal activists seem not to understand is that a liberal democracy is not a totalitarian state of liberal democratic views. Liberty isn’t the freedom to hold only non-reductive views. Freedom isn’t the liberty to silence those who would take away your freedoms.
Liberal democracy has its foundations in the plurality of opinion; the right of all to express themselves politically and the right of the majority to determine legislation on behalf of the minority. If the opinion of the majority doesn’t suit you, that’s too bad—that’s what you signed up for.
In our system of government, you have recourse to either change the opinion of the majority or petition your concerns to those in power. It is no part of any democracy that a person’s opinion can be unilaterally extinguished from the public square. If you take that position, you are worse than the evil you oppose. In addition to being sick with fascist tendencies, you are struck with a heavy dose of hypocrisy. At least Trump is a bald-faced fascist. Fascists I can handle; you can work with them. Racists I can handle; you can soften them. Bullies I can handle; you can frighten them. Hypocrites I can’t handle; their slipperiness makes it impossible. Like a bag of oily snakes, you’ll never grasp them. They’ll slither up your leg and sink their fangs into your nether regions.
The only legitimate form of protest comes at the ballot box. If you can’t beat Trump there because more people are going to vote for him than your guy—you’re in the minority now. You’ll get your turn in four years when this demon proves what you were protesting about.
But … if after four years the people still want him—then you have no cause, and even less cause now, to forcibly silence the majority. Every citizen has a democratic right to hear, to listen, and to vote according to their reason.
No one gets to decide the legitimate political discourse for other people in society—you just don’t.