On Friday night, protesters successfully disrupted a rally for Republican presidential frontrunnner Donald Trump. When the race-baiting businessman realized that anti-Trump activists made up roughly half the crowd, he cancelled the event. Then he went on the offensive. Predictably Twitter moaning about freedom of speech:
The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2016
First, Trump clearly doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand, that the right to free speech enshrined in the US Constitution (the states doesn’t have hate speech laws like we do in Canada, where Trump could probably be charged) doesn’t work that way. As this civil rights and constitutional lawyer pointed out:
/1 The First Amendment protects citizens from the government, not from unfriendly audiences. @realDonaldTrump
— Andrew Seidel (@AndrewLSeidel) March 12, 2016
What is really ironic, though, and what would really be tragic if Trump ever ended up in the White House, is that his recent rally rhetoric promotes an attack on the very constitutional right he claims he was denied on Friday.
Trump’s “Good Old Days” Were All About Suppressing Free Speech
Over the past few weeks, Trump has been encouraging his supporters to attack protesters more and more. As Rachel Maddow and others pointed out, this was most likely a deliberate attempt to provoke violence so he could claim he was the victim.
What is the most troubling about his rhetoric are his constant references to the “good old days” where there were “consequences” for protesting and protesters would most likely be “carried out on a stretcher.” To be clear, Trump misses the use of state violence to stifle dissent, to stifle free speech.
While his hypocrisy is palpable, so is the (perhaps willful) ignorance of his supporters. That they can claim to support a right while championing someone who seeks to repress it, most likely in a brutal manner, when in power, is stunning.
It’s About the People Rising Up, Not Politics
By Saturday, Trump had already named a culprit: Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. This was based, at least on the surface, on the fact that some of the protestors inside the event were vocally supportive of the Vermont Senator and completely ignored all the other protestors inside and the thousands in the student-led demo outside.
For his part, Sanders responded the best way he possibly could:
“As is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar. Obviously, while I appreciate that we had supporters at Trump’s rally in Chicago, our campaign did not organize the protests. What caused the protests at Trump’s rally is a candidate that has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities, and his birther attacks against the legitimacy of President Obama.”
In response, Trump threatened to send his followers into a Sanders rally and now the story has basically turned into Trump versus Bernie, at least in the mainstream press. While this will help Sanders in the upcoming primaries, especially given Hillary Clinton’s lack of support for the protesters, it distracts from what is really at play here: that a group of protester, mostly people of colour, were able to stop a Donald Trump bigot love-in.
Maybe Trump can’t fathom or admit the truth, so blaming a well-organized political machine is the only way out. I think, though, that admitting it wasn’t a power play but rather a play against power makes it impossible to deny that it is the protesters who are on the side of freedom of speech.
Donald Trump’s rights were not violated Friday night, he was in the power position while seeking a greater power position. But if he becomes President, you can believe he will do his best to eliminate the right of free speech through protest for everyone.