For all his faults, Donald Trump is not committing acts of violence — unlike the contemptible goons who have descended on his rallies in recent months.
That’s worth keeping in mind after Thursday’s bloody evening in San Jose, during which Trump supporters were pelted with eggs, vegetables, and bottles; had their “Make America Great Again” hats stolen and in some cases burned; and were punched or beaten. San Jose is the latest in a series not of anti-Trump “protests” but of riots — the distinction seems to be lost on these courageous opponents of “hatred” and on their defenders in the media and elsewhere. San Jose’s Democratic mayor, Sam Liccardo, suggested that it was “irresponsible” of Trump even to come to the city — or, put another way, Trump was wearing a short skirt, ergo . . . Apparently, any means justify anti-Trump ends.
For those in need of a First Amendment refresher course, the distinction between protests and riots is simple: To object to candidates with words of political dissent (i.e., not incitement to violence), and to peaceably assemble in order to propagate those words, are constitutionally protected rights; to destroy property and commit assault are not. Those are crimes, which should be prosecuted vigorously.
More important than their short-term aims, though, is that these “demonstrators,” like their counterparts in Ferguson and Baltimore, are demonstrating nothing so much as their contempt for the institutions and disciplines that make self-government possible. The ability to speak freely is one such institution, and the ability to listen to it without responding violently is one such discipline.
This is the predictable result of, among other things, a society beholden to the notion of “safe spaces” and “violent rhetoric,” academic nonsense that seeks to erase the bright, bold line between talking about throwing a punch and actually throwing one. The confusion of hostile speech with literal violence threatens our ability to engage thoughtfully and humanely with each other in pursuit of common goals. It threatens the entire business of republican politics.
Trump is not Hitler, and America is not on the threshold of a Reich. His opponents still have at their disposal all the tools of democratic persuasion, if they are so inclined to use them.