Over the past few weeks, the intensity of protests at Trump rallies has been on the increase. In turn, this has sparked debate on whether the protests harm or benefit Donald Trump. Some protestors feel that their protests, even if they become violent, have the advantage of showing the voters the depth of their convictions that Trump would be a poor choice for President. The other side of the debate is that the more violent these protests become, the more voters will turn to Trump.
Protest: as American as apple pie
Americans have a great deal of tolerance for allowing their fellow citizens the right to express their opinions. History shows the effectiveness of peaceful protest in our nation as demonstrated in the civil rights movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War. However, that tolerance weakens when protests turn violent. To quote Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Your right to swing your arm ends just where the other man's nose begins.”
A harbinger of what’s to come
Given how you’ve conducted yourselves, I have to ask: Are you secretly working for Trump?
Recent Trump rallies in Albuquerque, San Diego, and San Jose that have ended with violence may be a harbinger of what’s to come as the 2016 presidential campaign heats up. The type of violent protests seen over the past few weeks will benefit Mr. Trump more than it harms him. A recent article by Ruben Navarrette Jr., writing in My San Antonio, sums up the growing feelings of many people who are opposed to Trump but see a political gain for Trump if the violent protests continue. Navarrette writes:
Given how you’ve conducted yourselves, I have to ask: Are you secretly working for Trump? Seriously, are you trying to be an apprentice? Could it be that you’re just putting on a good show, pretending to protest Trump when your actual goal is to ensure that he becomes the 45th president of the United States?
Because that’s what you’re doing, helping his campaign immeasurably with these unruly outbursts of civil disobedience that are anything but civil. Many protesters also waved Mexican flags, a provocative gesture that — when done at political protests on U.S. soil — is always in bad taste. You don’t demand respect from one country by showing allegiance to another. How about waving the American flag?
Democrats are waking up to the political downside of protestors taking things too far and the growing risk that the violent protest will alienate middle America and move voters towards Trump. In the aftermath of protests in San Jose, California, where a video of protestors attacking Trump supporters leaving a rally gained wide attention, both the Clinton campaign and President Obama called on demonstrators to forgo violence.
There’s no room for a politics that fails to at least listen to the other side, even if you vehemently disagree
—President Barack Obama
Hillary Clinton told CNN, "I condemn all violence in our political arena.” Clinton then repeated her theme that Trump is at least partly responsible for encouraging protestors. President Obama, in remarks at a Democratic National Convention fundraiser in Miami, was more critical of the protestors saying:
We saw in San Jose these protesters starting to pelt stuff and Trump supporters. That's not what our democracy is about. That's not what you do. There's no room for violence. There's no place for shouting. There’s no room for a politics that fails to at least listen to the other side — even if you vehemently disagree. Because I believe if you've got the better argument, then you don't need to do that. Just go out there and organize and persuade."
Trump Is Not Going to Change His Style
The country is interested in hearing what Donald Trump has to say. According to recent polls, Trump currently has about the same chance of becoming president as does Hillary Clinton. For voters to make an informed decision about their choice in 2016, it’s important to have a free and open debate. For those that disagree with Trump, by all means express your disagreement. However, exercise your freedom to disagree in a manner that respects the freedom of those that want to listen.
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say.
—Evelyn Beatrice Hall
Protestors who block highways leading to Trump rallies, throw rocks at the police and Trump supporters, or burn the American flag, will accomplish little except to make the vast middle of America condemn their behavior. Trump’s campaign is well aware of the potential for gaining votes from protests that turn violent and attempt to prevent people from hearing Trump speak. There is no reason to expect that the Trump campaign should or will change its tactics to reduce protests.
Mayor Sam Liccardo paid dearly on social media for his early statement that seemed to excuse Trump opponents.
—San Jose Mercury News
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo issued a statement following last week's violence in his city that appeared to many to misplace the blame on Trump. According to the San Jose Mercury News the Mayor said:
While it's a sad statement about our political discourse that Mr. Trump has focused on stirring antagonism instead of offering real solutions to our nation's challenges, there is absolutely no place for violence against people who are simply exercising their rights to participate in the political process.
That kind of partisan talk attempting to blame the violence on Trump’s rhetoric is unlikely to convince many voters that violent protests should be excused just because one does not like Trump’s message. Donald Trump, like Bernie Sanders, draws large crowds to his rallies because people are interested in his message, and he’s not going to change his campaign style to appease the protestors, nor should he have to.
You don’t have to agree with what Trump has to say to respect his right to say it. The right of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton to speak should transcend political partisanship. Otherwise, we are all the poorer for it.