For those who insist that all of this concern over the resurgent authoritarianism and intolerance for free speech on our university campuses is a gross right-wing overreaction to harmless student activism, I present Donald Trump’s aborted rallies in Chicago and St. Louis yesterday.
Because this kind of mob rule – and the populist pro-Trump backlash which it will now inevitably generate – is the inevitable consequence of the on-campus infantilisation of students and their disregard for freedom of speech leaching out into wider society.
For context, from the unimpeachably impartial Guardian:
A Donald Trump rally in Chicago had to be called off on Friday evening amid scenes of violence and chaos unparalleled in the recent history of American political campaigning.
The scrapping of the Republican frontrunner’s appearance due to what his campaign cited as “safety concerns” led to uproar and fights inside the University of Illinois Chicago Pavilion and in the streets outside.
Scuffles broke out between Trump supporters, protesters and police, and a number of arrests were made, including of at least one reporter. As the mayhem took hold, Trump was reduced to complaining about the situation on the air, telling MSNBC: “It’s sad when you can’t have a rally. Whatever happened to freedom of speech?”
Having successfully forced the closure of the rally, the protesters were quick to gloat about how they had successfully halted the campaign rally of a man who (no matter how ignorant and odious some of his policies may be) is still a major presidential candidate whose ideas and pronouncements need to be heard and debated.
Not caring in the slightest that their actions served to suppress (and therefore fuel) bad ideas, the protesters celebrated their success:
Then it was announced that Trump wasn’t coming – and the arena erupted into chaos.
College students shouted “We shut it down” while loyal supporters of the Republican frontrunner shouted “We want Trump”.
Fights and scuffles broke out as protesters swapped blows with Trump supporters and activists eager to celebrate their apparent victory shouted “Bernie, Bernie” and“Si se puede” (“Yes we can”), while waving signs supporting the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders.
To be clear, when all of the overwrought wailing about Donald Trump bringing Nazism back to America is set aside: what we witnessed yesterday was the first time in recent history when the campaign rally of a major presidential candidate had to be called off because of the threat of violence from protesters – people who believed that their fundamental disagreement with the candidate on policy and rhetoric gave them the right to prevent those ideas being expressed in public.
Rod Dreher’s analysis of the whole sorry situation is spot-on:
These left-wing demonstrators tried to shut down an American presidential candidate’s speech during the campaign — and they succeeded, through an implicit threat of violence. People who support Trump drove hours to hear him talk, and they were denied their constitutional rights by left-wing hotheads who believe that they are so righteous that they don’t have to observe basic civility. You come to a Trump rally and you start flipping people off? You should not be surprised if you get a sock in the face.
What happened tonight in Chicago is why we need Trump, as obnoxious as he is, to keep going. I am not a Trump supporter, and I reject much of his rhetoric. But he has a right to give a speech, even an obnoxious speech, without it being interrupted by demonstrators. All of us do. Trump is revealing how impossible it is to have a normal democracy with the activist left, who think their crying need for “safe spaces” gives them the right to silence their opponents.
No. This political correctness needs to be opposed, and it needs to be opposed with force. I don’t know why the police couldn’t handle this situation, but they had better be on it in the future, because many Americans will not stand for this. What those protesters have done tonight is create a lot more Trump voters out of people who are sick and tired of privileged leftists using thug tactics to silence their opponents.
Like Dreher, I do not agree with Donald Trump on most issues and have no wish to see him and his half-baked, reactionary political ideas catapulted to the White House. But also like Dreher, when I see the virtue-signalling More Moral Than Thou anti-Trump protesters gloating about how they shut down an exercise in democracy, it gets my hackles up and I inch ever closer to empathising with Trump supporters.
Dreher rightly goes on to insist that he would feel just the same were it right-wing protesters trying to shut down a Clinton or Sanders rally:
Protest all you want, but do it outside the venue, or silently inside. Do not silence the speaker, because if you do that, you legitimize your opponents trying to silence the speakers from your side. Thuggish, illiberal tactics like this from the left call forth the same kind of thing from the right. When right-wing white nationalist types show up and make trouble at Democratic rallies, or BLM rallies, and get them cancelled, on what grounds will you on the left have to complain?
For me, it’s all about the mob. I despise the mob.
Is all of this enough to push Donald Trump over the finishing line in a presidential contest against Hillary Clinton or (less likely) Bernie Sanders? It remains unlikely – although in a political climate where Sanders is even competitive and Jeremy Corbyn leads the Labour Party in Britain, nobody can make cast-iron political predictions.
But at the same time, Dreher is right – those scenes from Chicago and St. Louis last night, beamed into millions American homes on the nightly news, will have created thousands more Trump supporters. Many existing Trump fans will be hardened in their resolve to vote for him, if only to give the preening liberal “fascists” a good kicking, while other wavering conservatives will be moved to take the plunge and come out as Trump supporters.
And this is why what is happening today in our schools and universities really does matter, and is not some fringe right-wing obsession.
Because these violent protests at Donald Trump rallies are what happens when a generation of young people – and looking at the protesters, the ones causing the most violence and disruption on the anti-Trump side are overwhelmingly young – are raised to believe that they have the right never to have to hear a contrary idea or an offensive opinion. This is what happens when young and impressionable minds are taught that if they do not like something, or it it hurts their feelings, that they are a “victim” and have the right to suppress the speech or behaviour to which they object by any means necessary.
Inside the sterilised bubble of campus life, these protesters would make loud and angry appeals to a higher authority (the university administration) to come crashing down on the person or people saying things that upset them. But in real life there is no Student Welfare Office or malleable university hierarchy to bend into submission. There are only other adults, to be intimidated with the threat of force.
To be clear; I has no time at all for Donald Trump. But you don’t need to support the man’s presidential bid to recognise that if the pre-emptive shutting down of his campaign rallies by political opponents continues, American democracy will suffer. Either it will feed into a persecution complex narrative which fires up Trump’s supporters and carries him to victory, or (far more likely) it will hobble his candidacy at the expense of creating massive resentment from his supporters, and merely burying his ideas rather than properly debating and discrediting them.
The inability of the Social Justice Warrior to think in public – to use their words rather than their fists, to debate using their minds rather than vandalise with their hands – means that the threat of violence is one of their only remaining weapons.
And now, together with the American Right – whose inability to neutralise Trump with a compelling mainstream conservative message is equally at fault – the virtue-signalling Left must shoulder their portion of the blame for actively fuelling the Donald Trump juggernaut.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty