Voters on the political right finally believe they have found their weapon in beating back a scourge of social justice both online and in demonstrations across the country, and they believe that weapon is Donald Trump. To hear it told, the brash, supposedly un-PC outsider is just the ticket that conservatives need if they are to restore balance to the societal scale and end the shame-based culture of social justice.
But a closer look at Donald Trump’s actions and words clearly show a disturbing pattern: Not only is he a long way from being the proud free-speech activist he claims to be, but he is in fact the most politically correct candidate running for the presidency in 2016.
Trump consistently uses the threat of authority to silence those who criticize him, and such banana-republic tactics set conservatives on edge. Not being social-justice warriors by nature, conservatives don’t seek out ideological opponents in the hopes of silencing them through protests, brute force, or judicial restraint. And they are wary of a social-justice god king barreling toward them from their (supposedly) right flank.
The media are all too happy to turn their cameras on the extravaganza of Trump rallies. While eagerly searching for bloodshed and chasing sound bites to play at their Sunday-morning roundtables, they are, as usual, missing the larger picture.
Trump’s real assault on free speech isn’t his rhetoric at rallies but his frequent attempts to use authority to silence critics.
Trump’s quips about wanting to punch protesters in the face, and his promise to pay his fans’ legal fees if they rough up anti-Trump rabble-rousers, are only the beginning of the problem. Trump’s real assault on free speech isn’t his rhetoric at rallies but his frequent attempts to use authority to silence critics.
During a Republican debate, Trump came out against the Supreme Court’s pro–free speech decision in Citizen United. On more than one occasion, he has expressed his desire to “open up” libel laws so he can punish journalists who write “mean” things about him. He has urged the FCC to suspend his critics on television. On social media, he has demanded that his critics be fired, much to the delight of his mob of anonymous supporters, who flood the accounts of those Trump has singled out. Some online Trump enforcers have even attempted to “dox” the naysayers by revealing their personal info on the Internet.
Trump has also managed to turn his campaign into one big safe space. The Daily Dot obtained a copy of Trump’s non-disclosure agreement for campaign volunteers, which prohibits volunteers from disparaging Trump, his campaign, his company, or his family in any way, presumably for life. The contract specifically states:
No Disparagement. During the term of your service and at all times thereafter you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage publicly the Company, Mr. Trump, any Trump Company, any Family Member, or any Family Member Company or any asset any of the foregoing own, or product or service any of the foregoing offer, in each case by or in any of the Restricted Means and Contexts and to prevent your employees from doing so.
This is enough to make even Lena Dunham blush.
Trump doesn’t want to expand or defend the constitutional provisions protecting speech. He simply wants to be the only person able to take advantage of them. What’s more telling is that his supporters, under the misguided impression they are conquering political correctness, cheer him on every step of the way.
Trump and his horde of online social-justice followers aren’t conservative. They are neo-nationalist culture warriors who believe that conservatism is a weak or failed ideology. They write daily barrages on social media about how the GOP betrayed them. But a political party is simply a vessel for ideas. It’s a body. When that body develops cancer and dies, the ideas move to another host. This is the fundamental error that Trump makes. He is not the new host for these ideas. He is the cancer.
Something in Trump appeals deeply to his most ardent supporters – something they do not find in the more traditional lineup of conservative candidates.
Trump has never said he’d like to shrink our overbearing federal bureaucracy. Quite the contrary: He has stated his intention to expand it wherever he can. He has promised to replace Obamacare and Common Core with things that are “terrific.” Given Trump’s penchant for gold leaf and marble, “terrific” sure doesn’t sound prudent. And given his poor track record in product launches, there’s not much chance his replacement programs would be successful.
Over the course of his eight-month wrecking ball of a campaign, the number of times he has mentioned the word ‘liberty’ can be counted on one stubby, tiny-fingered hand.
And over the course of his eight-month wrecking ball of a campaign, the number of times he has mentioned the word “liberty” can be counted on one stubby, tiny-fingered hand.
Clearly, Trump isn’t drawing his support from traditional conservative voters. Instead, he is winning over voters who, though they might be registered Republicans, are often ideologically aligned with Democratic positions, in particular on social issues.
Trump claims in his stump rants that he is bringing people over to the Republican party. That is possible, but the question remains: Why are these people moving toward the GOP? Bringing the FCC or lawsuits down on speech sounds good to Trump’s blossoming coalition of fans because they hold the same far-left statist views that Donald Trump does. They feel angry and perhaps envious that leftists act out their frustrations on city streets and college campuses, with an adoring media in tow and sometimes even joining in. Having an American-flag twitter header or making a pro-First Amendment hashtag doesn’t quell the bitterness.
Trump’s supporters simply want their own strongman to serve as a blunt-force weapon against the multitude of leftists screaming for the cancellation of un-PC commencement speakers or the resignation of disfavored public figures. (Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla, comes to mind — he was forced to resign in 2014 after gay-rights activists launched a campaign against him for his views on marriage, which were the same views that Obama held until 2012.) Trump’s devotees believe that the only way to get revenge for the suppression of their speech is to have someone on their side who will use the power of the Oval Office to shut down the social-justice warriors.
But therein lies the error. Trump isn’t on their side.
The online “alt right” movement — inspired in part by the nuclear-grade political correctness that has raged through social media, college campuses, and the world of online video game — finds itself aligning with a candidate who holds the same positions as the social-justice crowd it claims to despise. There is no ideological difference between Donald Trump’s call for a protestor to be arrested and the Missouri University Police Department’s recommendation that students on campus report “hateful and/or hurtful speech” to them.
“Part of the problem and part of the reason it takes so long is nobody wants to hurt each other any more,” Trump declared at a rally on March 11, referring to security officers who were removing protestors. “They’re being politically correct, the way they take them out, so it takes a little bit longer, and honestly protestors realize it. They realize there are no consequences to protesting any more.”
When former Missouri professor Melissa Click infamously called for “muscle” to remove a student journalist who was videotaping a student walk-out staged in a public space, she was rightly ridiculed out of her job. (Though, with the backing of hundred of professors, she is appealing the university’s decision to can her.) Trump’s “muscle” has manhandled reporters at press conferences and photographers at his rallies. Trump and Click were made for each other.
Currently, the largest safe spaces in the country aren’t college classrooms — they are the arenas where Trump holds his rallies. Protestors are threatened and sometimes assaulted as the blustery circus master declares from the stage that he will cover his fans’ legal fees. He jokes that he wants to partake in the “fun” himself.
Trump’s rallies are private events — he can ask anyone to leave for any reason at any time, and he would not be infringing on anyone’s constitutional right to free speech. But his wish to silence dissent by way of government agencies or the court should raise more eyebrows than his blustery rhetoric about punching protesters. Social-justice warriors aren’t at their most dangerous when they are blocking traffic or chanting at rallies. It’s when they are sitting on policy and safety boards at Twitter and Facebook, or appearing daily on MSNBC, as Trump does.
The lure of revenge can be intoxicating, overwhelming even. But that’s not how to win the culture back from the clutches of the PC legions. Revenge in the form of an emotionally stunted Donald Trump equals authoritarianism and anarchy — not justice.
— Stephen L. Miller publishes The Wilderness, where he writes on viral politics and social media. Follow him on Twitter @redsteeze.