Imagine if Senator Barack Obama, facing a possible presidential convention battle, had warned that if he didn’t get the nomination: “I think you’d have riots.” Then, to be statesmanlike and magnanimous, he added: “I wouldn’t lead it but I think bad things would happen.”
Conservatives would have exploded in justified indignation at this threat of civil violence, which they would inevitably understand as carrying a racial subtext. Even Al Sharpton has never been so shameless as to warn explicitly that if, say, this or that cop isn’t indicted or convicted there would be riots. Instead, the riot threat from Sharpton and other black activists remains merely implicit in the “No Justice, No Peace” agitation.
So what is the difference when Trump overtly threatens riots? His supporters, both in the grass roots and the commentariat, have ignored or brushed off his reckless warning. Is it because white people don’t riot? Actually, they occasionally do, as the intermittent store-smashing during the “No Global” protests of the 2000s showed. To be sure, industrial-strength riots over the last year and a half and over the last four decades were overwhelmingly black. And the professional white anarchists who vandalize Starbucks and McDonald’s outlets during anti-globalization rallies are a very different demographic than Trump’s supporters.
Nevertheless, don’t assume that given enough encouragement, working-class Trump backers can’t be worked up into some Bacchanalian violence themselves. And while such self-indulgent tantrums may not reach the same scale as the recent rioting in Baltimore, Ferguson, and Oakland, they would be just as corrosive an attack on civil order.
Faced with each latest example of Trump’s megalomaniacal boorishness and appalling manners, his supporters inevitably claim: Oh, the Left is so much worse. That is not always the case. Trump has achieved a level of vicious, personal invective, and wildly irresponsible public pronouncements that is unprecedented in recent memory. And I speak as someone who supports his immigration positions 100 percent and who takes a fiendish delight in his scourging of the Republican establishment and its open-borders ideology. But some things are more important than a stated willingness to enforce the immigration laws (especially when an alternative candidate exists who is equally committed to immigration enforcement), and the maintenance of civilized society is one of them.
Ironically, Trump occasionally positions himself as the law-and-order candidate. But his recent threat of riots disqualifies him from that position and shows him to be clueless about the fragility of civil order and the profound responsibilities of a leader for maintaining that order. His self-indulgent, undisciplined pronouncements should disqualify him from the presidency as well.