During a weekend of violence at some of Donald Trump’s rallies, I received a flurry of angry emails, all playing the same game of “How would you feel?”
How would you feel, I was asked in one note, if a group of Ku Klux Klansmen broke up a Bernie Sanders rally?
That’s a round-about way of referring to the violence that erupted at Trump rallies, particularly in Chicago, where the Republican frontrunner’s rally was called off after crowds of protesters grew exceptionally large.
Early announcements that police had called off the event were withdrawn after police denied it. Some protest organizers insisted they were intent on making noise, not shutting down the event, although they joined the cheering after the event was shut down.
I could argue against false equivalencies here. You may disagree, but I don’t see the potpourri of blacks, whites, Hispanics, Arab-Americans and others who gathered to peacefully protest as the moral equivalent of organized Klansmen.
Still I won’t deny that some young pseudo-anarchists and other hotheads would delight at shutting down Trump’s events and those of anyone else with whom they disagree.
So, make no mistake: Muzzling your opposition makes you no better than Trump, a guy who likes free speech as long as it’s his own.
Sure, he cries out for free speech when his own is threatened. He promised at a late-February event in Fort Worth to “open up” libel laws if he is elected, so that when journalists write “purposely negative horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”
Since libel laws already hold journalists accountable when they publish false and defamatory information, whether it is out of negligence or intent, one wonders with dismay what Trump has in mind. Free speech for him, perhaps, but not for me?
Adding apparent injury to insult, Trump disputed charges filed by Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields against his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, with police in Jupiter, Fla. In the incident, witnessed by another reporter, Lewandowski allegedly grabbed her roughly by the arm.
It is more than enough for Trump to corral reporters in the back of the room and mock them in his speeches. His staff members don’t need to manhandle them, too.
Free speech is not entirely free. Even Trump must avoid sounding too provocative or he could be charged with incitement to riot. As a result, he denies condoning violence even as he justifies and encourages it.
“I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you.”
“In the good old days this doesn’t happen, because they used to treat them very, very rough.”
“I love the old days. You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher, folks.”
“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would ya?” He said at one rally. “Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them,”
After he promised to “pay for the legal fees” of anyone who did that, he would “take a look at” paying the legal fees of an elderly white man who sucker-punched a black protester who was being escorted out of a North Carolina rally.
When you have offered to pay the legal fees of those who “knock the hell out of” protesters, it’s pretty hard to argue that you are blameless when riots break out. Yet Trump plays the victim with complete indifference to contrary evidence, including his own words.
Unbowed at a Boca Raton rally on Sunday night, Trump boasted about “how well we handled” those earlier confrontations. Surrounded by police, Secret Service agents and other security, Trump taunted: “Do we have a protester, anyone?” and “Is there a disrupter in the house?”
Yes, as much as I deplore much of what Donald Trump has to say, as a famous old saying goes, I will defend to the death his right to say it.
But if you poke a stick at a grizzly, you should not be surprised that the grizzly strikes back.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.